Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I am returning home today after a refreshing denominational chaplain conference in Houston. During the time I received some spiritual care, spent time with friends and colleagues, and participated in a number of very informative training sessions. It was a good time, and for the most part with a few forays to check on friends on Facebook, look at a few news headlines, and read my favorite comics, I pretty much disconnected from social media and the Internet. Instead I spent time with others and did a lot of reading.
The latest book that I am reading is The Coming of the Third Reich by British historian Richard J. Evans. I read the book when it came out years ago but amid all the political chaos going on in the Unites States, I decided to pick it up again.
One thing that Evans noted about the Nazi Party in the 1930 elections, was how it took advantage of people’s frustration and discontent as the Great Depression overwhelmed the Weimar Republic. In those elections the Nazis went from being a fringe party to being a major player in German politics at the local, state, and national levels, and Adolf Hitler becoming a truly national political player. Evans wrote:
“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.”
I think that is a very similar phenomena to what we are seeing today in the United States, whether it be from the frustrated supporters of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, as well as the members of the Christian Right that are supporting Ted Cruz. In many cases they are frustrated and angry at what they see as the failure of both parties, and refuse to see the inherent dangers in people who promise much but at the same time show little in the way of developed programs and means to achieve what they are promising. In the case of Trump it often shown in xenophobic fearmongering, for Cruz an honest belief that he his God’s anointed one to lead the a United States in the “Last Days,” protect what he calls “Christian values,” even if that means depriving non-believers of their rights; and Sanders, who really gives honest commentary, (with which I happen to agree on on many points) regarding many of the enconomic and social ills afflicting the nation, but has no demonstrated program of how he will get Congress to fulfill his agenda, or the second, third, and fourth order effects of some of his economic ideas. And all of these men, in a sense are outsiders, even in the parties that they are trying to become the presidential standard bearers. They all appeal to the anger and frustration of different constituencies at the failed policies and broken promises of the establishments of both parties. In such an environment outsiders play well, while establishment candidates die on the vine, just ask President Jeb Bush.
Such was the case at the end of the Weimar Republic, and such could be here if we are not careful.
Evans noted, ￼”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…”
All this is said not to demean any of the candidates, to imply that any are Nazis, or to deny any of their supporters often legitimate complaints about the system ￼and the often moribund party apperatuses of both parties. It is only to serve as a warning of what can happen when the system breaks down and the most cherished ideals and institutions of democracy are cast aside out of political expediency and perceived, or manufactured, national crisis which is intensified by the frenetic campaigning, simple slogans and vivid images offered by the media savvy campaigns of the different candidates; all of whom in one way or another play to the real,or imagined fears of their supporters, often with no regard for truth.
Admittedly what I say here can be decidedly uncomfortable, but what I say is something that we still have time to think about and keep from happening here. Our system may be terribly flawed, and maybe even broken, but we can still make it work. Too many people have given their lives in war and peace; sometimes as soldiers, sometimes as advocates and activists, sometimes as legislaters or jurists, or simply hard working people who pulled together in the most difficult times to make things work, to throw it away. Likewise, it is what billions of people in hundreds of nations have looked to for inspiration and guidance; that sacred proposition “that all men are created equal.”
But the task before us is not to destroy what we have, but as the Constitution notes “to form a more perfect Union” and as Abraham Lincoln stated in his Gettysburg Address, “to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work…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 face of the earth.”
Forgive me for sounding a note of hope and belief in the face of raging anger and cynicism, but this is important for all of us, and it does not matter if you are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, or who you support in the current political campaign. The problem is right now, is that there are many people on both sides of the political chasm who are so frustrated and angry that they cannot see the contradictions in their candidate’s positions and edit out the positions of their candidates that they find disturbing.
So anyway, have a great day.