Trump and the Return of the Know Nothings 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Mark Twain reportedly said that “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” One can see that in the nomination of Donald Trump as the nominee of the Republican Part for President. Eleven months ago I wrote an article called Trump and the Return of the Know Nothings. At the time few people gave him little chance of becoming the Republican nominee, and now he is the nominee and for all practical purposes owns the GOP. 

Trump’s xenophobic views on immigration charged the debate in the Republican Party during the primaries, and his positions which were fringe positions of most Repulicans for decades became the mainstream, just as the same issue did during the 1840s and 1850s. So this is not a new phenomenon, and even over the past few decades the debate has come and gone, but it has returned with a vengeance as Donald Trump made immigration, or rather a virulent anti-immigration platform the centerpiece of his campaign. Trump’s focus on the issue forced other Republican candidates to scramble in order to find a position close enough to Trump’s without completely throwing away the vote of immigrants who they will need to win in many states; if they are to have any hope of winning back the presidency in 2016. But they failed. Trump outmaneuvered them at every point, and in the end Trump’s strongest opponent, Senator Ted Cruz went into the witch’s cauldron of the Republican National Convention not to endorse Trump but to stand on principle and in the process destroy his politic career and maybe endanger his life. 

But Trump’s positionresonated with parts of the Republican base, and by appealing to their anger and frustration he has built a solid core of support which loyally supported him in a campaign that featured so many blunders and heneous comments that in a normal election cycle his campaign would not have survived past the Southern Super Tuesday. But he did, and if on the  takes the time to read Trump’s speeches and the reactions to them by his supporters it becomes apparent that Trump has tapped into that vast reservoir of nativism that has always been a part of the American body-politic.


As I said, such attitudes and movements are nothing new. Anti-immigrant movements in the United States go back to our earliest days, ever since the first Irish Catholics showed up in the northeast in the late 1790s and early 1800s. Met with scorn and treated as criminals the Irish Catholics had to work hard to gain any kind of acceptance in Protestant America. But immigrants continued to come, seeking the freedom promised in the Declaration of Independence.

Many White American Protestants viewed Irish, German and other European immigrants to the Unites States in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s as interlopers who were attempting to take over the country. The immigrants were regarded as poor, uneducated, uncouth, and immoral, and in the case of Catholic immigrants as representatives and foot soldiers of a hostile government, the Vatican, headed by the Pope and the bishops. Those who opposed immigration formed a movement that was aimed at forbidding immigrants from being granted full rights, especially the rights of citizenship and voting. The fear was pervasive. Many Northern Whites were afraid that immigrants would take their jobs, since like slaves in the South, the new immigrants were a source of cheap labor.

Northern Protestant church leaders and ministers were some of the most vocal anti-immigrant voices and their words were echoed by politicians and in the press. The movement grew and used government action, the courts and violence to oppress the Irish and Germans who were the most frequent targets of their hate. The movement eventually became known as the “Know Nothing” movement.

Know Nothing leaders were not content to simply discuss their agenda in the forum of ideas and political discourse, they often used mob-violence and intimidation to keep Catholics away from the ballot box. Mobs of nativist Know Nothings sometimes numbering in the hundreds or even the thousands attacked immigrants in what they called “Paddy hunts,” Paddy being a slur for the Irish. To combat immigrants who might want to exercise their right to vote, the Know Nothings deployed gangs like the New York’s Bowery Boys and Baltimore’s Plug Uglies. They also deployed their own paramilitary organization to intimidate immigrants on Election Day. This group, known as the Wide Awakes was especially prone to use violence and physical intimidation in pursuit of their goals. The Nativist paramilitaries also provided security for anti-immigrant preachers from angry immigrants who might try to disrupt their “prayer” meetings.

Know Nothing’s and other Nativist organizations, organized mass meetings throughout the country which were attended by thousands of men. The meetings were often led by prominent Protestant ministers who were rich in their use of preaching and prayer to rile up their audiences. The meetings often ended with physical attacks and other violence against German or Irish immigrants and sometimes with the burning of the local Catholic Church. They also provided security for preachers from angry immigrants who might try to disrupt nativist prayer meetings.


Bloody Monday, Louisville 1855

The violence was widespread and reached its peak in the mid-1850s.

Monday, August 6, 1855 was Election Day in Louisville, Kentucky. To prevent German and Irish Catholics from voting, Know Nothing mobs took to the street and launched a violent attack on immigrants as well as their churches and businesses. Known now as “Black Monday” the Nativists burned Armbruster’s Brewery, they rolled cannons to the doors of the St. Martin of Tours Church, the Cathedral of the Assumption and Saint Patrick’s Church, which they then were searched for arms. The private dwellings and the businesses of immigrants were looted. A neighborhood known as “Quinn’s Row” was burned with the inhabitants barricaded inside. At least 22 persons were killed in the violence and many more were injured. In Baltimore the 1856, 1857, and 1858 elections were all marred by violence perpetrated by Nativist mobs. In Maine, Know Nothing followers tarred and feathered a Catholic priest and burned down a Catholic church.

The Know Nothings did not merely seek to disenfranchise immigrants through violence alone, they were more sophisticated than that. They knew that to be successful they had to change the law. Then, as now, a new immigrant had to live in the United States for five years before becoming eligible to become a naturalized of the United States. The Know nothings felt that this was too short of time and their party platform in the 1856 election had this as one of the party planks:

A change in the laws of naturalization, making a continued residence of twenty-one years, of all not heretofore provided for, an indispensable requisite for citizenship hereafter, and excluding all paupers, and persons convicted of crime, from landing upon our shores; but no interference with the vested rights of foreigners.

The rational of the Know Nothings for the 21 year wait was that if a baby born in the United States had to wait until it was 21 years old he could vote, that immigrants were being permitted to “jump the line” and vote sooner than native-born Americans. But really what the Know Nothings wanted to was to destroy the ability of immigrant communities to use the ballot box. In many localities and some states Know Nothing majorities took power. The Massachusetts legislature, which was dominated by Know Nothings, passed a law barring immigrants from voting for two additional years after they became United States citizens.

The 1856 platform Know Nothing Party was synopsized by a Know Nothing supporter:

(1) Repeal of all Naturalization Laws.

(2) None but Americans for office.

(3) A pure American Common School system.

(4) War to the hilt, on political Romanism.

(5) Opposition to the formation of Military Companies, composed of Foreigners.

(6) The advocacy of a sound, healthy and safe Nationality.

(7) Hostility to all Papal influences, when brought to bear against the Republic.

(8) American Constitutions & American sentiments.

(9) More stringent & effective Emigration Laws.

(10) The amplest protection to Protestant Interests.

(11) The doctrines of the revered Washington.

(12) The sending back of all foreign paupers.

(13) Formation of societies to protect American interests.

(14) Eternal enmity to all those who attempt to carry out the principles of a foreign Church or State.

(15) Our Country, our whole Country, and nothing but our Country.

(16) Finally,-American Laws, and American Legislation, and Death to all foreign influences, whether in high places or low

In addition to their violent acts, the use of the courts and political intimidation the Know Nothings waged a culture war against immigrants. Latin mottoes on courthouses were replaced by English translations. Actions were taken to remove immigrants who had become naturalized citizens from public offices and civil service jobs as well as to use the government to persecute Catholic churches. In Philadelphia, all naturalized citizens on the police force were fired, including non-Catholics who has supported Catholic politicians, and in Boston, a special board was set up to investigate the sex lives of nuns and other supposed crimes of the Catholic church.


In the political upheaval of the 1850s Nativists tried to find homes in the different political parties. Some Know Nothings who were abolitionists became part of the new Republican Party, and Abraham Lincoln condemned them in harsh terms. He wrote his friend Joshua Speed about the hypocrisy that they displayed by supposedly being against the oppression of blacks while willing to oppress immigrants:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”

As an organized movement, the Know Nothings died out by the early 1860s, migrating to different parties and causes. In the North many became part of the pro-slavery Copperhead movement, which opposed Lincoln on emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment. In the post-war South the anti-Catholic parts of the Nativist movement found a home in the Ku Klux Klan and other white terrorist organizations which also used racist and nativist propaganda to perpetuate violence, and disenfranchise emancipated blacks in the decades following the end of the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction. The Nativist and anti-immigrant sentiments have periodically found a home in different parts of the country and the electorate. Violence was used against Chinese, Japanese and Filipino immigrants on the West Coast, against Mexicans in the Southwest, Italians, Slavs, Eastern Europeans and Jews in the Northeast.

Sadly it seems that the Know Nothing is being turned against others today. I find it strange that there are a host of people, mostly on the political right that are doing their best in their local communities, state legislatures and even Congress to roll back civil liberties for various groups of people. There is a certain amount of xenophobia in regard to immigrants of all types, especially those with darker skin white Americans, but some of the worst is reserved for Arabs and other Middle-Easterners, even Arab Christians who are presumed as all Middle Easterners are to be Moslem terrorists, even those who have been here decades and hold respectable places in their communities.

But immigrants are not alone, there seems to be in some states a systematized attempt to disenfranchise the one group of people that has almost always born the brunt of legal and illegal discrimination, African Americans.

Likewise there have been numerous attempts to roll back the rights of women, especially working women; the use of the legislature by religious conservatives to place limits on the reproductive rights of women, holding them to the standard of a religion that they do not practice. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling for Marriage Equality in Obergfell v. Hodges there still are numerous attempts to curb any civil rights, including the right to marriage or civil unions of the LGBT community.


As I said, this is nothing new, that hatred and intolerance of some toward anyone who is different than them, who they deem to be a threat is easily exploited by politicians, pundits and preachers, none of whom care for anything but their prosperity, ideology, religion, or cause. While I would not call them a new incarnation of the Know Nothings, I have to notice the similarities in their message and the way that they push their agenda. As for those among them who claim the mantle of Christ and call themselves Christians I am troubled, because I know that when religion is entwined with political movements that are based in repressing or oppressing others that it does not end well. As Brian Cox who played Herman Goering in the television miniseries Nuremberg told the American Army psychologist Captain Gustave Gilbert played by Matt Craven “The segregation laws in your country and the anti-Semitic laws in mine, are they not just a difference of degree?

That difference of degree does matter, and there have been and still could be times when the frustration and anger of people, especially religious people can be whipped into a frenzy of violence and government sanctioned oppression by unscrupulous politicians, preachers and pundits. History is replete with examples of how it can happen. When I think of this I am reminded of the close of Spencer Tracy’s remarks in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg:

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

So for today I will leave it there. I probably will return to the similarities between the Know Nothings and Trump, but not this moment. I actually do have a life and want to write about other things. But that being said, there are times when history rhymes, and this is one of them. 

So have a wonderful day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“We Are All Americans”: Tim Kaine Embraces America’s Greatness

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Time Kaine

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was refreshing, after a week of the unrelenting apocalyptic fearmongering of the Donald Trump Party National Convention, Virginia Senator Time Kaine emphasized what is really true about our great country. Instead of the specter of fear presented by Trump, a humble yet comfortable Kaine made the point that this country was not built on fear, but on hope and opportunity. We do not deny problems or challenges, but by facing them with courage, imagination, and determination to succeed and prevail. In the darkest days of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt reminded a fearful nation that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” We do not solve problems by demonizing other citizens, wallowing in cynicism, or by building walls, but by standing together as Americans.

The message that we are all Americans is something that we have nearly all forgotten, but it is a message that and I am so happy that he set that tone, it was something that after a week of unrelenting fear-mongering, ethno-nationalism coming from Donald Trump and his minions at the Republican National Convention that we needed to hear, whether we are the descendants of the colonists who first came here, a citizen, or an immigrant who embraces the proposition of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” 

In 1858 Lincoln spoke in Chicago, and in that speech he linked the common connection of all Americans share, even recent immigrants, through the Declaration. It was an era of intense anti-immigrant passions, the American Party, which sprang from the Know Nothing movement which founded upon extreme hatred of immigrants, and Roman Catholics, and violence against them, had run former President Millard Fillmore for election as at heir candidate in 1856 following the collapse of the Whig Party.

In opposition to this party and movement Lincoln proclaimed that immigrants, “cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel a part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find those old men say that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,… That is the father of all moral principle to them, and they have a right to claim it as if they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in the Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and Liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

Interestingly enough another Virginian was reminded what it is to be an American on April 9th 1865. After Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp, Colonel Ely Parker, was a full-blooded Seneca Indian. Lee stared at Parker’s dark features and said: “It is good to have one real American here.” Parker, a man whose people had known the brutality of the white man, a man who was not considered a citizen, and who in his lifetime would never gain the right to vote, replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.” That afternoon Parker would receive a commission as a Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, making him the first Native American to hold that rank in the United States Army. He would later be made a Brigadier General in the Regular Army, without ever being granted the right to vote.

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Ely Parker

Today and everyday we need to remember what both Kaine and Ely Parker said, we are all Americans. We don’t need to “make America great again,” but it is our responsibility to embrace these words as Americans, and embrace the vision that made American great. As we do so we need to labor incessantly to achieve what Lincoln talked about at Gettysburg in November 1863, as he spoke of the men who fought and died at Gettysburg:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Triumph of the Will without the Artistry or Charm


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It has been a busy week at work, socially, and commenting on the Republican National Convention. So I am taking a bit of a break to do some yard work this morning before it gets too hot, to do some other work around the house; and later, to grill some beer brats this afternoon before we simply chill out with our Papillon girls Minnie and Izzy. 

But just a brief thought. When I watched portions of the convention, and the message delivered at it by Chris Christie and various others, especially the keynote address of Donald Trump I was felt I was watching a really badly done version of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda masterpiece The Triumph of the Will, albeit without the artistry or the Hitlerian charm. The appeal to power, strength, might, and the demonization of all domestic polical opponents inside and outside the GOP; the identification of foreign Devils, religious enemies, and immigrants to stoke fear and hate was all to be seen, as was the promise that Trump, and Trump alone could make the country safe from these devils and prosperous. The desire to return to a world that no longer exists was the heart of the GOP message, just as it was for the Nazis, the existing world must be destroyed and a new world built in the manner of the old must be established. But sadly, most Americans who have only the barest of comprehension of the scope of the Nazi regime, or for that matter any other dictatorship did not notice. 

Richard Evans in his book The Coming of the Third Reich wrote about the 1932 presidential election campaign in Germany which pitted Hitler against the incumbent, the aging scion of German conservatism, Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg. 

“Hitler ranted against the iniquities of the Weimar Republic, its fatal internal divisions, its multiplicity of warring factions and self-interested parties, its economic failure, its delivery of national humiliation. In place of all this, he shouted, democracy would be overcome, the authority of the individual personality reasserted. The revolutionaries of 1918, the profiteers of 1923, the traitorous supporters of the Young Plan, the Social Democratic placemen in the civil service (‘ revolutionary parasites’) would all be purged. Hitler and his Party offered a vague but powerful rhetorical vision of a Germany united and strong, a movement that transcended social boundaries and overcame social conflict, a racial community of all Germans working together, a new Reich that would rebuild Germany’s economic strength and restore the nation to its rightful place in the world. This was a message that had a powerful appeal to many who looked nostalgically back to the Reich created by Bismarck, and dreamed of a new leader who would resurrect Germany’s lost glory. It was a message that summed up everything that many people felt was wrong with the Republic, and gave them the opportunity to register the profundity of their disillusion with it by voting for a movement that was its opposite in every respect.” 

Does this not sound familiar? 

So anyway. I am planning a short article for tomorrow but I need to get to work.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I Alone Can Fix It: Trump’s Dictatorial Message

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Last night I watched the entirety of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. I am not going to go ever all of the details of it, especially the myriad of lies, distortions, and half-truths which the nominee proclaimed, but instead I am going to talk about what has happened to my former political party in its deification of a man who portrayed himself as the savior of the country. He bluntly said as much And proclaimed that he said “nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” The response from the crowd was “Yes you will!” From the purely visual standpoint one could not help but notice that there were few symbols of the Republican Party in evidence and the supersized TRUMP name over the stage which was shown over a background of gold, as if you were entering the Trump tower in New York. It dwarfed all symbols of the Republican Party, as well as the nation, including the American flag.

His speech was dystopian and apocalyptic; his words fed the real and the imagined fears of people, amplifying them in such a way that catered to the view that without him as the savior the United States would perish. As he talked he railed on enforcing the laws of the country and making people safe immediately, but he ignored the Constitution, made no mention of the role of Congress, or for that matter our state governments; and only referred to the courts as means of enforcing security. Not once did he talk about freedom, except of giving the Unconstitutional freedom for Churches to advance their sectarian beliefs at government expense and with the full backing of the police state. Jefferson, Madison, and Virginia Baptist leader John Leland would be rolling in their graves over a proposal which would destroy the First Amendment. 

Enemies, were identified. They included immigrants, Muslims, and American liberals, not to mention dissenters in the GOP. Eric Hoffer wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.” Trump mentioned several “Devils” and cast every one of them into the image of Hillary Clinton. Clinton is certainly a flawed candidate and person, but she is not a devil, and to not reign in supporters who openly talk about killing her is unbecoming for the leader of the Republican Party, but this is not the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, or either Bush. That party is dead. Its desiccated body died during Trump’s speech last night. Now, what remains is Republican in Name Only. Hoffer wrote,

“It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler—the foremost authority on devils—that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category.” When Hitler picked the Jew as his devil, he peopled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. “Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States.” 

Richard Evans in his book The Coming of the Third Reich discussed one of Hitler’s first speeches after coming to power.

“As so often in his career, Hitler, beginning slowly and quietly so as to secure the rapt attention of his enormous audience, went over the history of the Nazi Party and the alleged crimes of the Weimar Republic since 1919—the inflation, the impoverishment of the peasantry, the rise of unemployment, the ruin of the nation. What would his government do to change this parlous situation? His answer avoided any specific commitments at all. He said grandly that he was not going to make any ‘cheap promises’. Instead, he declared that his programme was to rebuild the German nation without foreign aid, ‘according to eternal laws valid for all time’, on the basis of the people and the soil, not according to ideas of class. Once more, he held up the intoxicating vision of a Germany united in a new society that would overcome the divisions of class and creed that had racked it over the past fourteen years. The workers, he declared, would be freed from the alien ideology of Marxism and led back to the national community of the entire German race. This was a ‘programme of national resurrection in all areas of life.'” 

If those words seem somewhat familiar, compare the basic message to that of Trump. Blame your opponents and proclaim a new era without saying how you will actually implement your program, except to build a wall, demonize opponents, threaten allies, praise dictators, and promise that all the problems will be solved by you quickly, without regard to economic, military, diplomatic reality, and people in the hall loved it, “Yes you will! Yes you will! Yes you will!”  It was the worship of a would be dictator, and it was most noticeable among supposedly conservative Christians. I wonder how many of them, like German pastor Martin Niemoller who came to regret his support of Hitler, will regret theirs. Niemoller wrote, “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer had words for the kind of “truth” that Trump and his supporters are proclaiming. He called it Satanic Truth. Bonhoeffer wrote of it, “It’s essence is that under the semblance of truth it denies everything that is real. It lives upon the hatred of the real and the world that which is created and loved by God. It pretends to be executing the judgment of God…”

Trump’s overwhelming message was that he and he alone could save the country, there was no reference to how the constitutional system of our nation’s government is to work; the checks and balances of the executive branch working with the legislature to pass laws, and the courts to ensure that those laws are enforced fairly, but also to make sure that they are constitutional. Trump’s words show a contempt for that system of government, a system which is not perfect, but which regardless of its flaws is still the last best hope for enlightened civil government, of the people, by the people, and for the people on the face of the earth.

While watching the Trump speech, and and his claim that he alone can make us safe, I was reminded of these words of Abraham Lincoln wh9o sounded a warning about the real defense against tyranny, that is the love of liberty and the preservation of its spirit, for all people, in all lands.

“These [the armed forces] are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where…. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.”

I was frightened last night, not by Trump’s distortion of reality in his dystopian and apocalyptic picture of the United States, I have much more faith and hope in our country and its resiliency than fear mongers like Trump and scare out of me. Instead I was frightened by the fact that a man like him has now captured a major American political party, whose most loyal “Christian” adherents are ready to overthrow our republic and remake it as a dictatorship, and in which all opponents are to be silenced or swept off the streets.

The convention was like watching Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will without her artistry or the Hitlerian charm. 

So, until tomorrow, I bid you peace,

Padre Steve+

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Prelude to Tyranny


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Was amazed last night when Senator Ted Cruz; a man I have never had anything good to say about; went into the seething, hate filled arena in Cleveland hosting the coronation of Donald Trump and made a speech that probably destroyed his political career. Standing firm as delegates screamed angry and even violent epitaphs at him, he refused to endorse Trump. Instead, he told Republicans to vote their conscience. Some delegates became so enraged that Cruz’s wife had to be escorted out for her own safety. 

Now personally I wouldn’t give a bag of donuts for Cruz, and I have frequently criticized his very theocratic vision of America, but I admired his courage last night. During the campaign Trump did all that he could to destroy Cruz, even accusing Ted’s nutcase father of being connected to the assassination of President Kennedy. Cruz had nothing to gain from what he did had he even given a weak endorsement he would have saved his career in Trump’s GOP, a party that no longer resembles that of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, or Ronald Reagan. But had he done that, he would have been safe.

But he didn’t and I applaud his Trump has recreated the GOP in his image, and Cruz will have no place in it. Nor will any Republican who has raised a voice against him. They are considered traitors by Trump and his loyalists, and those who attempt to placate him should they have second thoughts about their opposition, will find that they will pay a heavy price, even if Trump loses the election. Trump and his stalwart base will never forgive or forget, and the words that some of his supporters which threaten violence, will likely be followed with real violence. This is not normal. It is not what our founders intended, it is the nature of an anti-democratic and violent mass movement. 

You might wonder why I say this, after all we are more advanced in this country than to stoop to such actions, but to people who nurse fanatical grievances, this is quite normal. American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote, “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.” For many of Trump’s followers, especially the religious ones, the Trump candidacy has become a holy crusade and all opponents within and outside the GOP are agents of the Devil himself, while those who are faithful are the elect, who lose themselves in the movement, for it and its leader are greater than them, which excuses them from personal responsibility for any violence. This was true in Revolutionary France, Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and the Soviet Union. 

Hoffer wrote, 

“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”

The responses among the faithful, especially some conservative who I know on social media to what Cruz did is frightening. Just a few months ago many of them saw Cruz as their political savior, a man who was going to bring the Christian Dominionist agenda into the Presidency. Now he is called a traitor, a liar, and worse by the same people, who now have transferred their allegiance to Trump just as quickly as conservative German Christians dumped their political affiliations in old line conservative parties, including those which were political wings of churches for the Nazis. 

Since I have already read the leaked text of Trump’s speech I will wait until tomorrow to discuss it. But for what I see it is filled with lies and distortions to instill fear and unite people behind him as the only person who can fix it. It is the same line of attack used by Hitler to vault into the Chancellorship, and well, you know the rest. Hitler had his conservative opponents jailed, including opponents in the Nazi Party, sent to concentration camps, or murdered as quickly as he did others, even faster than he did to the Jews. So if I was Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham or one of the others GOP leaders who have criticized Trump, I would watch my back. 

So if you plan on watching Trump’s speech I suggest that you start drinking heavily. As for me I am following Andrew Sullivan’s live blog over at the nymag.com as I watch the speech, which reminds me of Triumph of the Will without the Hitlerian charm. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Descent into Collective Madness: When All You have Left is Hate…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer once wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.” Last night the Republican convention managed to sink deeper into the realm of collective madness than any American political party ever has. 

A no point in the evening was a case made for the positive merits of the GOP nominee, Donald Trump. Instead the headlining speakers,mNew Jersey governor Chris Christie and retired neuro-surgeon, failed presidential candidate religious fanatic Ben Carson set the tone for not just the convention, but the campaign. Without a positive message all they had left was to stoke a white-hot inferno of hatred toward Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Christie used his speech not to promote Trump, but to turn policy decisions made in part by Clinton into crimes and soon he had the delegates, conditioned by over twenty years of anti-Hillary hate and propaganda preached by right-wing talk radio and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, Ruch Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the entirety of the Fox News network worked into a frenzy, arms outstretched like Nuremberg rally attendees dying out “lock her up!” Not to be outdone, Carson went off script and related Hillary to Lucifer through Saul Alinsky proving Hoffer correct. To continue the madness a Trump delagate and a leader of the Veterans for Trump said today that “Hillary should be taken to a firing line and shot.” 

The fact that many in the media are treating this a politics as usual miss the all too important insight that these are the exact phrases used by Nazi to demonize their opponents as they marched toward power, which they then later put into action once power was gained. Those who believed that the Nazi’s words were hyperbole found out too late that they actually meant them. 

The troubling thing as that of vein before he won the nomination Trump has endorsed physical violence against opponents and even promised to pay the legal fees of supporters who assault opponents, tried to shut down judges, and banned reporters who criticize him from his campaign events. The fact that he is doing this should send shivers into anyone concerned with civil liberties, and not just liberals. Already the Republicans who have voiced opposition to Trump are being run out of the party and demonized as traitors. 

Once ensconced in power Trump will use his executive powers in ways never imagined by the Founders. He has no respect for the separation of powers and will ignore the Constitution, Congress, and the Courts anytime that he desires, and sadly, if he has a Republican majority in Congress, he will get all that desires. Like the Nazi dominated Reichstag, Congress will become nothing more than a rubber stamp for Trump’s edicts. Those conservatives who thought they would be able to restrain Trump will, like the German conservatives of the 1930s will be disappointed. Those who don’t support him will be purged. 

Hatred has become the sole motivation for anyone to support Trump, and it is no wonder. Hoffer correctly noted, 

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. It pulls and whirls the individual away from his own self, makes him oblivious of his weal and future, frees him of jealousies and self-seeking. He becomes an anonymous particle quivering with a craving to fuse and coalesce with his like into one flaming mass.” 

But then hatred is all the GOP has left to offer. As a former lifelong Republican the spectacle is profoundly disturbing.

Until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Nuremberg on Lake Erie


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been watching bits and pieces of the Republican National Convention and try as I might as a man who spent thirty-two years as a faithful Republican to find anything redeeming in it, I couldn’t. In fact, it troubled me more that I ever imagined that it could. If I wasn’t a historian with a tremendous background in both the history of Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Era; not to mention the American Civil War era, I probably would be less frightened. If I were not a historian I would probably just brush the words and actions that I have seen in Cleveland off as hyperbole with little real merit. But I cannot use ignorance as an excuse to ignore what I see, and try as I might I cannot get the images of the Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies out of my mind as I watch what is going on in Cleveland.

Though Trump won the delegate count by a slight plurality, dissenting delagates were brushed aside in procedural votes, any who oppose him in the GOP are now considered traitors and are scorned. Many prominent GOP leaders, including George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush are not attending this fiasco, nor is the last GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Likewise, some  18 GOP Senators and hundreds of other GOP leaders. Leading Republicans, including elected officials and pundits with pedigrees that go back to Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan are leaving the party, and with good reason; but to Trump and his stalwarts they are all traitors. For those who don’t remember Hitler purged the Nazi Party of men who did not agree with him as well. 

The images shown at the convention hall were designed to appeal to the basist of human nature: hatred of the other, using faux patriotism, the image of military might, and the tales of martyrs. Coming from a man who has openly and notoriously mocked military personnel and veterans; a man who compared his time in a private military pre-school to be superior to actual military service; and a man who used every method imaginable to avoid the draft in Vietnam, the display was sickening. A man that openly mocks military personnel using them for his political and personal gain. 

The speeches thus far have been angry diatribes which demonized Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton using charges that have been continually refuted. Peaceful Black Lives Matter Demonstraters were vilified as being responsible for the recent assassinations of police officers, when the men who killed them wanted nothing to do with the BLM movement or working peacefully with authorities to deal with a very real problem. The answer of Trump and his supporters to these to all problems is to go back and echo the words of anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and 1850s, or the answers of those who instituted Jim Crow, and those who passed the anti-Chinese laws of the 1880s-1940s.

But now these same xenophobic ideas are turned against Americans of color, or Americans of the Muslim faith; and let us not even talk about the radically anti-woman and anti-gay measures in the party platform. One speaker openly proclaimed that President Obama is a Muslim, repeating a lie as old as Obama’s nomination in 2008; a lie that Trump was one of the biggest publicists, and for which he has never apologize. Interestingly enough, the day the convention began, Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King, a long time Trump supporter, openly spoke of the superiority of the white race on live television. 

Listening to some of the speakers and reading their words I was reminded of the Nuremberg party rallies where Jews, Social Democrats, organized labor, and peoplewho were called subhuman, were the target of intensely violent rhetoric, which once the Nazis came to power was transformed into action. Like today the foreign policy blunders that led to a war  that broke the nation were not attributed to the imperialistic nationalists who helped bring about the disaster. Instead the fault for World War One was not blamed on the Kaiser and militarists, but those who were not responsible for bringing about the war, and who were saddled with dealing with the mess when those who caused it ran away from their responsibilities. Today Trump and his minions demonize President Obama and Hillary Clinton for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and four security contractors in a rapidly evolving crisis that only lasted 13 hours, but ignore any sort of inquiry or justice for the 4500 military deaths in the Iraq War; a war that was planned for over a year and justified by lies. Likewise, the lists of similarities in style and substance between Trump and the Nazi movement are too numerous to mention, and the similarities in the political climate between the late Weimar of 1930 to January of 1933 and today is frightening. Historian Richard Evans wrote in his book The Coming of the Third Reich: 

In the increasingly desperate situation of 1930, the Nazis managed to project an image of strong, decisive action, dynamism, energy and youth that wholly eluded the propaganda efforts of the other political parties, with the partial exception of the Communists. The cult of leadership which they created around Hitler could not be matched by comparable efforts by other parties to project their leaders as the Bismarcks of the future. All this was achieved through powerful, simple slogans and images, frenetic, manic activity, marches, rallies, demonstrations, speeches, posters, placards and the like, which underlined the Nazis’ claim to be far more than a political party: they were a movement, sweeping up the German people and carrying them unstoppably to a better future. What the Nazis did not offer, however, were concrete solutions to Germany’s problems, least of all in the area where they were most needed, in economy and society. More strikingly still, the public disorder which loomed so large in the minds of the respectable middle classes in 1930, and which the Nazis promised to end through the creation of a tough, authoritarian state, was to a considerable extent of their own making. Many people evidently failed to realize this, blaming the Communists instead, and seeing in the violence of the brown-uniformed Nazi stormtroopers on the streets a justified, or at least understandable reaction to the violence and aggression of the Red Front-Fighters’ League. 

Voters were not really looking for anything very concrete from the Nazi Party in 1930. They were, instead, protesting against the failure of the Weimar Republic. Many of them, too, particularly in rural areas, small towns, small workshops, culturally conservative families, older age groups, or the middle-class nationalist political milieu, may have been registering their alienation from the cultural and political modernity for which the Republic stood, despite the modern image which the Nazis projected in many respects. The vagueness of the Nazi programme, its symbolic mixture of old and new, its eclectic, often inconsistent character, to a large extent allowed people to read into it what they wanted to and edit out anything they might have found disturbing. Many middle-class voters coped with Nazi violence and thuggery on the streets by writing it off as the product of excessive youthful ardour and energy. But it was far more than that, as they were soon to discover for themselves.

Trump presents a vague program and changes his positions so often that it is a wonder how he can say them and keep a straight face. But the very real anger of the voters that he is channeling doesn’t demand answers, they don’t want anything concrete from him, with the possible exception of  a wall across the southern border with Mexico. But to many of Trump’s supporters today, like many Germans in 1932, a real program, real answers, and any kind of ideological consistently, economic philosophy, or understanding of foreign policy do not matter. 

But even worse from the perspective of a Christian is the fact that to many people, Trump’s hedonistic lifestyle, three divorces; his basic lack of concern and empathy for anyone other than himself; as well as his propensity to use people until they are of no use to him and throw them away; not to mention  his lack of business ethics, four corporate bankruptcies and his vainglorious narcissism which in former times would have lost  vote of conservative Christians, are now ignored. 

In fact a plethora of prominent leaders of the Religious Right, men like James Dobson and James Robison; men who Barry Goldwater despised, have come to embrace and support the Trump candidacy. The last poll I saw estimated that four of five people who call themselves evangelical or conservative Christians plan to vote for Trump, and mock his Deomcratic and Republican opponents. A “Christian” pastor used his benediction to do what never has been done at any major American political party’s convention. He called the other party and their candidate “the enemy,” and linked Trump’s vision to that of God. It was both blasphemous and anti-American all at once. 

The whole first day and today’s continued rancor is frightening to behold. Ronald Reagan would be rolling in his grave and Abraham Lincoln would condemn what we have seen in the same way that he condemned the Know Nothings in the 1850s. 

As a former Republican, as a man who worked for the Ford campaign before I could vote;  a man who voted for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and both George H.W., and George W. Bush, this is not about partisan politics, but I am glad that I left the FOP when I did when I came home from Iraq in 2008. 

This is about telling the truth about a campaign that I could never have believed in a million years that would be occurring in our country.  That my friends scares the hell of me. While I don’t believe that Trump will win the election, the thought that he has taken control of the GOP and is in the process of destroying it, bothers me, as it should you, and frankly he doesn’t care. He has no loyalty to anyone other than himself, and all of us, including his most loyal followers are just stepping stones; just like the German people were to Hitler, and they followed him to hell. 

Anyway, that is enough for today. Nothing like spending hours in doctors and military pharmacy waiting rooms with screaming kids and GOP convention coverage to get the blood flowing. I can use a beer or four tonight. 

Have a great day,

Peace

padre+

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