The Politics of National Destruction 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I’m on my way back home from Houston today, a very early flight so I wrote this last night in my hotel room. Yesterday I wrote about how many people since the beginnings of totalitarian mass movements in the 20th Century are easily led by demagogues and manipulated by propaganda, so much so that they will deny objective truth and facts to believe the lie, and defend the lies. 

We are at a dangerous point in history. Much of the western world is in the midst of a political crisis the likes have not been seen with the collapse of the old order after the First World War. It is a time made for demagogues, right and left wing ideologues, and others intent on overthrowing the existing order. President Trump’s advisor Steven Bannon is typical in his view. Far from being a traditional conservative, or populist, Brannon told Ronald Radosh in 2013 that he was a Leninist. Radish was shocked and asked him what he meant, to which Bannon replied: “Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  When Radosh questioned Bannon about the criticism of Tea Party tactics of government shutdown by conservative commentator Thomas Sowell in National Review Online, Bannon told Radosh, “National Review and The Weekly Standard are both left-wing magazines, and I want to destroy them also.” 

President Trump has announced his intentions to destroy what he calls “the administrative state” while at the same time increasing police powers at all levels of government by reducing judicial and administrative oversight of police agencies. If one looks at history this is very similar to policies used in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, where in both cases police organizations became the most powerful agencies in their respective states. The result was that the state was able to use police power as an instrument of terror against their own citizens as well as in nations that they occupied. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism: 

“To Stalin constant growth and development of police cadres were incomparably more important than the oil in Baku, the coal and ore in the Urals, the granaries in the Ukraine, or the potential treasures of Siberia—in short the development of Russia’s full power arsenal. The same mentality led Hitler to sacrifice all Germany to the cadres of the SS; he did not consider the war lost when German cities lay in rubble and industrial capacity was destroyed, but only when he learned that the SS troops were no longer reliable.” 

While Trump does not, at least yet, to enjoy the power of a State controlled by a single party with unlimited power to control the police and to fully limit the judiciary; his words and the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to this point indicate that that is the end state that they desire. This is only possible by destroying the power of the institutions of the constitutional state, and then by co-opting the structure of the state to fulfill the will of their ideological ends. 

At present this is not yet fully possible, but the potential of a Reichstag Fire incident to use to take over the full powers of the state through emergency decrees cannot be discounted when the stated goal is to destroy the state. One cannot give short shrift to President Trump’s statements on the campaign trail, nor his unending stream of tweet storms when estimating what he is capable of doing if given the chance. For my friends who doubt Trump’s competence to govern, it is not about competence, but rather the ruthlessness that he would be willing to employ to achieve his ends. Those who simply excuse his more extreme statements, his deliberate untruths, as hyperbole and his lack of loyalty to trusted advisers, and his willingness to shred the leaders of the party when he leads them to legislative defeat as normal political actions are sadly mistaken. If there is a crisis, one actually committed by an external enemy, or a false flag incident, this President will use his power to take control. Our President has routinely praised the actions anti-democratic dictators As Timothy Snyder wrote: “For tyrants, the lesson of the Reichstag fire is that one moment of shock enables an eternity of submission. For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions.”

For those people who I talked about yesterday who are willing to excuse the outright falsehoods of the President, this is not an issue. The fact is that for many of them they have been waiting for the chance to take vengeance on those who they perceive as their enemies, both real and imagined. That is why the Christian Right overwhelmingly supported Trump more than they have any previous Republican candidate for President. 

These are dangerous times. Our constitutional system is not nearly as resilient as we assume that it is in such a crisis. We cannot forget that shortly after Franklin Roosevelt became President that some on the political Right attempted to get retired Marine Corps General Smedley Butler to lead a coup against the President. Butler would have nothing of it and revealed their plot. But how many others would be willing to defend the institutions of a State that they wish to destroy? The Generals of the German Reichswehr rolled over to support Hitler to overthrow the hated Weimar Republic, just as conservative French politicians, industrialists, and military leaders were willing to allow Hitler to defeat France in 1940 in order to destroy the Third Republic. 

The words and actions of the President and his advisers concerning the American political system be discounted when estimating what they are capable of doing. Their apparent collusion with Putin’s a Russia before and after the campaign is being revealed more and more each day. If they did in fact collude with the Russians that is called treason. There is no other word for it, and no matter how wide and deep this is it seams to be of no importance to Trump’s followers, especially those of the supposedly Christian Right. They are willing to excuse it so long as it serves their political need for revenge against those they believe to be their political, ideological, and religious enemies. As Snyder wrote: 

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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The Power of the Lie: Propaganda and Undying Belief in the Leader


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After a long day of travel and some intitial meetings at my denominational chaplain training symposium I settled back into my hotel, contemplating some of the events of the past week and reflected on Hannah Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism which I finished reading this week. It is a very hard read because each sentence, each paragraph, and each page requires one to think about history, philosophy, ethics, religion, and politics. In fact, if a reader is lacking in these disciplines they will not fully appreciate both the message and the timeliness of this book, which was published over sixty years ago. Sadly, the state of our educational system means that even many college educated people, whose education has prepared them for the workplace but unable to think critically would have trouble appreciating Arendt’s words. 

With us now at President Trump’s 100 day point, in which he has failed to accomplish any for his promises and according to his own words did not realize hard difficult being the President would be, it is important to reflect on the present and the past, to compare, contrast, and learn lessons. There are many to learn, but I think the most important is the power of lies and propaganda in the minds of the President’s most loyal supporters, Evangelical Christians. He won over 80% of the Evangelical vote, and in the most recent opinion polls Evangelicals remain the President’s most loyal followers, and are more likely to believe his most demonstrably verifiable falsehoods than anyone, despite the fact that the President in his actions and words mocks the heart of the Christian faith on a daily basis even while chumming the water with new promises designed to keep Evangelicals in his camp. Trump has successfully co-opted Evangelicals using the same “us against them” language that the preachers of the supposedly Christian Right and their political allies in the GOP have been using for forty years. 

Arendt repeatedly addressed the subject of followers who support leaders that do not have their interests at heart. She noted:

“The obvious contradiction between a mass organization and an exclusive society, which alone can be trusted to keep a secret, is of no importance compared with the fact that the very structure of secret and conspiratory societies could translate the totalitarian ideological dichotomy—the blind hostility of the masses against the existing world regardless of its divergences and differences—into an organizational principle. From the viewpoint of an organization which functions according to the principle that whoever is not included is excluded, whoever is not with me is against me, the world at large loses all the nuances, differentiations, and pluralistic aspects which had in any event become confusing and unbearable to the masses who had lost their place and their orientation in it.” 

The apocalyptic worldview of Evangelicals, shaped by decades of propaganda claiming that Christians were being persecuted, and the mythology promoted by Tim LaHaye’s thirteen best selling novels of the Left Behind series have created a base that is willing to believe every conspiracy theory imaginable. As Arendt wrote: 

“The claim inherent in totalitarian organization is that everything outside the movement is “dying,” a claim which is drastically realized under the murderous conditions of totalitarian rule, but which even in the prepower stage appears plausible to the masses who escape from disintegration and disorientation into the fictitious home of the movement. Totalitarian movements have proved time and again that they can command the same total loyalty in life and death which had been the prerogative of secret and conspiratory societies.” 

Many Americans, and not just Conservatives and Evangelicals, but people on the Left as well have become both gullible and cynical, the way some on the Left threw Hillary Clinton under the bus based on now discredited conspiracy theories, and who were in large part to blame for her defeat is prima facia evidence. But this trait is particularly strong in Evangelicals and in Evangelical culture. I know this because I grew up in it and worked for a televangelist in seminary some 25 years ago who later jumped in big on the Trump train. 


It is easy to be taken in by such propaganda. William Shirer, an American newspaper and radio correspondent who spent eight years in Nazi Germany wrote: 

“I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda.” 

I lived that in Evangelicalism as well as in conservative Anglicanism but escaped it. But the fact is, that for decades the Conservative movement and in particular conservative Evangelicalism have lived in the cloud-cuckoo-world of propaganda and conspiracy theories promoted by unsavory radio and television commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Bill O’Reilly and hundreds more like them, as well as their own politically oriented preachers like Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, James Robison and thousands of others. 

Arendt wrote: 

“A mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true… Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

That my friends is what those who stand aghast at the deliberate falsifications of the Trump administration are fighting against. So anyway. Enough for now. I hope that I have time to follow this up tomorrow as I head home. Until then. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fly the Friendly Skies

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m traveling to Houston today by air. Truthfully I have never been much a fan of flying. When I was younger I actually had a big fear of crashing, but after flying all around Iraq in all sorts of military aircraft, and occasionally getting shot at, the issue of crashing is the least of my concerns, notwithstanding the fact that two years after Judy and I had flown back from our tour in Germany on December 28th 1986 on it that the Pan Am 747 Maid of the Seas was blown up over Lockerbie Scotland.

When I was a kid flying was an adventure, it was something special, and the airlines were doing their best to give good customer service, even in coach, because they wanted to eliminate their competition, which was then America’s vast passenger rail system. Truthfully, I loved going across country by train. Yes, it took more time, but it was relaxing and you could see so much of this beautiful country.

But today, air travel for the most part is not to be enjoyed, and much of that is due to the way the airlines, the airports, and airport security treat you. The recent public relations fiascos involving U.S. flagged air carriers which included the outright abuse of customers showed this in all its ugliness. As far as airport security, I cannot tell you how many bad experiences I have had even in uniform. Honestly I don’t mind flying, once I get aboard airlines like Lufthansa, British Air, KLM, or Air France. I dread flying on United, pretty much abhor American, and approach Delta with trepidation.

As far as travel in the continental United States I prefer Southwest Airlines. First, since I have been in the military for almost 36 years I am used to the cattle car experience. I don’t mind not having assigned seating. Likewise, I have never had a bad experience on that airline, the customer service I have had has always been awesome. Two years ago I was flying to Houston for the same purpose that I am today. I was booked on Southwest and flew the first leg from Norfolk to Baltimore. I arrived at Baltimore and went to grab a beer while waiting for my flight to Houston when I discovered that I didn’t have my wallet. Some gentleman bought my beer as I dashed back to the gate. The gate agent sent people back into the aircraft to find my wallet and it wasn’t aboard. They contacted Norfolk as I made my way to the gate when my next flight was to depart. I told the gate agent there what was happening and he already had the answer. My wallet had been found by the Norfolk gate agents and they had already made arrangements to get me back to Norfolk, pick up my wallet and fly to Houston through Orlando, all at no extra cost. That is customer service. They went the extra mile to make things right even though they had done nothing wrong. I will never forget that.

So anyway, until tomorrow, please, if you fly… fly the friendly skies.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Living an Adventure: The Importance of Travel


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Mark Twain noted: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I’ll be traveling this weekend, nothing really to write home about, just a quick trip to Houston for my denominational Chaplain training symposium. But that being said it gives me an opportunity to share a couple of thoughts about the importance of travel and getting out of one’s comfort zone. The fact is that two-thirds of Americans do not have a passport, and most have never ventured out of the country, many having seldom left the state or region that they are from.

I’m not one of them. I have visited much of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and lived as a child in the Philippines and as an adult in Europe. At an early age I was blessed to be a Navy brat and to live in a number of places and truthfully when my dad retired from the Navy I was upset because that adventure of moving and traveling was ending. Of course as an adult I have been in the military for nearly 36 years, and continued live that adventure and to satisfy my wanderlust. I really cannot imagine what it would be like not to travel and not to experience the world in its fullness.

Likewise, I can fully agree with Twain’s words, for as one travels, as one meets other people, and experiences different cultures it expands the mind and I think the heart as well. Like Hannah Arendt I find that living abroad is joyful and easy, she wrote: “Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Beginnings of a Book

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Hannah Arendt wrote:

“Slavery’s crime against humanity did not begin when one people defeated and enslaved its enemies (though of course this was bad enough), but when slavery became an institution in which some men were ‘born’ free and others slave, when it was forgotten that it was man who had deprived his fellow-men of freedom, and when the sanction for the crime was attributed to nature.”

It has been a very busy few weeks and one of the exiting things that is in the process of happening is that my literary agent has informed me that he has some promising leads in trying to get one of my book drafts published. The book, which I have given the tentative title Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era began as one of the introductory chapters to my Gettysburg Staff Ride text and took on a life of its own. As I read, researched, and wrote my search led me to more and more aspects of slavery and abolition that opened my eyes to the very religious, and Christian justifications for both, especially the words of Southern preachers which I have a hard time getting out of my head because of how perverse those views were, and still are.

Over the past couple of years I have posted parts of it on this site and I feel that it is really important work as so many of the issues of the ante-bellum era in regard to the institution of slavery: the Civil War with emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment that outlawed slavery in the United States; Reconstruction with the Fourteenth Amendment which granted citizenship to freed African Americans, and which became foundational for other Civil Rights causes, and the Fifteenth Amendment which gave Black men the right to vote. These were followed by the Civil Rights act of 1875, and then with the end of Reconstruction came the return of White Rule, the overthrow of the Civil Rights Act, and the reestablishment of slavery by another name with Black Codes, Jim Crow, and violent White Supremacist groups, and finally the emergence of a new Civil Rights movement in the late 1940s. First Baseball and then the military were desegregated, then finally in 1964 the Voter’s Rights Act was passed and then in 1965 the a new Civil Rights Act.

During the interregnum between the end of Reconstruction and the high point of the Civil Rights movement, many African Americans, famous, and those not so famous worked to establish equality. Men like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B DuBois, Jackie Robinson, Benjamin O. Davis and Benjamin O. Davis Jr., James Meredith, John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and women like Rosa Parks fought discrimination, segregation and racism through peaceful protests and strong personal leadership and example. The Buffalo Soldiers served their country proudly even though they faced discrimination almost everywhere in the United States. But they all persevered.

Their story is the story of America, and intertwined in it are the themes of religion, racism, ideology, and politics; sometimes used for the purpose of freedom, but all too often perverted to deprive others of that same freedom. The institution of slavery needed racist ideology and a theology to cover the evil that it was, and can be again. That is why I write about it, and why I led this article with the quote by Hannah Arendt. The fact that after a great Civil War that claimed the lives of about 750,000 American soldiers, North and South, that others within months attempted to re-establish slavery by other means, and then when Reconstruction ended succeeded in using the law to make Blacks both second class citizens as well treating them as less than human. The poison of this philosophy spread to Europe where Hitler and his Nazi Party zealots crafted race laws against the Jews that were based in part on the American model of Jim Crow and the Black Codes.

The resurgence of White Supremacist groups across the United States and in Europe show us that we cannot ignore history without ourselves committing similar crimes against humanity. I guess that’s why I started this article with the quote by Hannah Arendt. It wasn’t just the enslavement of people, it was the institutionalization of that as well as its defense by ideologues, business leaders, politicians, and worst of all, supposedly Christian religious leaders.

So anyway, that is why I write. Anyway, I’m going to have a lot to do working with my agent over the coming days and weeks. Have a great day. I’ll keep you posted.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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America First and the Holocaust

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Before Donald Trump’s promise to Make America Great Again and govern by the principle America First there was a movement that proclaimed the message of America First. It was a movement that was led by men like Charles Lindbergh as well as many isolationist politicians, mostly Republicans. It advocated a policy favorable to Nazi Germany and fought against the immigration of any Jews to the United States from Germany or Nazi occupied Europe. Lindbergh blamed the Jews as well as the British, and the Roosevelt administration for the war more than he did Hitler, and this was in his Des Moines speech of September 11th 1941, after two years of war and Hitler’s ruthless war of conquest.

In that speech Lindbergh said:

“Instead of agitating for war the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation. A few farsighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”

That my friends is the root of the America First message. It was demonstrated in the Trump Press Secretary, Sean Spicer’s words in the immediate aftermath of the Syrian chemical attack on its own citizens in which Spicer said that Hitler had not even done that, ignoring the fact that Hitler’s henchmen had gassed millions of Jews. When he attempted to correct himself he only dug himself in deeper by talking about “Holocaust Centers.” While they did not use it against enemy soldiers, they used it against their own people first, beginning with the disabled, then the Jews, both German and those in countries that they overran. It was evident in the administration’s statement on Holocaust memorial day which did not mention the Jews. One only hope that the President when he speaks today about the Holocaust will be somewhat more clear about who the primary targets of Hitler’s Final Solution were. Yes, many millions were killed or starved to death by the Nazis, but it was the Jews who were the target of Hitler’s race hatred from the very beginning. 

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

If this is what it means to make America Great again then we are deep trouble.  Historian Timothy Snyder wrote: “When exactly was the “again” in the president’s slogan “Make America great again”? Hint: It is the same “again” that we find in “Never again.”

I hope that the President will rid himself of this terrible America First ideology, for it has nothing to do with true patriotism or the ideals of those who founded our country. With that I will wish you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Understanding the Actions Ordinary Men: Perpetrators of Genocide

Ordungspolizei Executing Jews in Poland

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

I just finished re-reading Christopher Browning’s classic book on an often overlooked part of the Holocaust in Poland, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution  in Poland. As I read it I was reminded of Niebuhr’s words. The book details the actions of the men of a police unit that one would have expected to be the most unlikely perpetrators of violence and mass killing. Most of the unit’s men were not ardent Nazis or even party members, many were too old to have been drafted into the military, and most came of age long before the Nazis took control of the education system.  They were mostly from Hamburg, one of the least Nazified of all major German cities, and included was a contingent from Luxembourg, a country that was not part of Germany.

In their actions in Poland an estimated ten to twenty percent refused to take part in the mass killings of Jews. Unlike the people who manned the factory like death camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz, these men killed their victims in an exceedingly personal manner. They stood at close range and fired pistol or rifle shots into the back of the skulls of their victims, who mostly were kneeling over pits or prostrate on the ground. The members of the unit killed a minimum of 38,000 Jews in this manner, and were instrumental in the deportations of about 45,000 more to the death camps. Very few were prosecuted for their crimes. Most went home, and some resumed successful careers in the police.

These men were very ordinary, and that is what makes what they did so troubling. One of the problems with human nature is that people in any time or place can participate in the very kinds of evil that the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 and other units like it did. We have to understand what allows normal people to take part in evil. As Timothy Snyder wrote in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin:

“It is easy to sanctify policies or identities by the deaths of victims. It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander.”

It is never easy to examine and understand the actions of the perpetrators. To understand them is not to justify them, but to ensure that we do not become like them, as Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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