Monthly Archives: July 2016

A Cyclorama, a Cornerstone, and a Proposition

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been at Gettysburg this weekend and yesterday was spent doing the Staff Ride on the battlefield. Normally we get all of the first two days of the battle done and conclude at Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill before retiring to dinner. Yesterday, the weather got in the way. Thunderstorms came through and while we were able to finish the final assault of the Confederates on Cemetery Ridge, the storms became worse, so I altered the plan. Instead of pushing on and ensuring that my students would be too wet and miserable to learn anything I changed the plan on the fly and took them to the Visitors Center, where we normally begin our Sunday.

This was a good choice because it also got them more time there than if we had done it today. While there I went the the Cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge, which I had not visited since 1997. The cyclorama is the largest oil and canvas painting in the United States. It give a 360 degree view of the battle. Painted in 1883 by Paul Phillipotaux it is 42 feet high and 377 feet in circumference. It was restored between 2005 and 2008 when it was placed in the new Visitors Center. In all of my trips since then I had not re-visited it. Yesterday I did and it was spectacular, far better than it used to be. 

I also spent time in the museum. One of the displays was a video display of Northern and Southern leaders comments about slavery and abolition in the years leading up to the war and shortly after secession. I stopped and watched and listened, as the words of speeches that I had only read were spoken. One of the statements was that of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens in his “Cornerstone Speech” of March 1861. In it Stephens laid out the what he called the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy, that it was a nation conceived on the superiority of the white race, the subordination of the black race, and the error of the founders of the United States in the proposition that “all men are created equal.” 

This was an assertion that Stephens to believed was in error, and he noted that the new Confederacy was “founded on exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subornation to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition…” 

Now I have read that speech many times and it always sends a tremor of revulsion through me. But yesterday was different. I heard an actor speaking those words, and not only did that tremor of revulsion go through me, but I had an emotional reaction, terms filled my eyes in sadness and anger such as I had not experienced when simply reading the words. To hear a voice utter them was to make them real, because I hear all too similar expressions of the racial superiority of the white race from many supporters of Donald Trump, to included prominent White Supremacists, like David Duke and Pat Buchanan as well as many others including the KKK and bro-Nazis. 

 Likewise, it struck me because many people I know who call themselves conservative Evangelical or Catholic Christians use similar terminology not just to describe their racial superiority, but their religious superiority over others. Hearing those words spoken, reminded me of the fact that those who proclaim them are in fact attacking the very foundation, the very e proposition that the founders stated, and which Abraham Lincoln reiterated and universalized, “the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

That proposition is at the heart of the Bill of Rights and if we say that this is wrong, and we attempt to marginalize, disenfranchise, and otherwise discriminate against people based on their race, nationality, skim color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, then we have forgotten the most important part of who we are as Americans. Thankfully, a number of rooms later I entered a room which dealt with the Gettysburg Address. In it there was a display of that text, with the voice of an actor portraying Abraham Lincoln speaking it. I paused, listened and reflected on the difference of Lincoln’s words and those of Stephens. Truthfully, hearing the words of Stephens and Lincoln being spoke felt like how I reacted the differences between the Trump convention, and the Democratic National Convention. 

The fact is that the United States was founded on that simple proposition that all men are created equal. While we haven’t always practiced it, in this country or abroad, it does not take away the power that simple truth to set people free. In this country it has been an at times grueling task to bring freedom to slaves, to women, to other immigrants, and to the LGBTQ community. It has been 240 years and there are still people trying to roll back the rights of those they think are inferior, or who they believe that their religion condemns. That my friends is not an American concept, it a throwback to the old world, a world which only exists in the Cloud-Cukoo land of ideologues.

So today we finished up the Staff Ride going to Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill prior to retracing the route take by Pickett’s troops as they made their ill-fated charge into the center of the Federal line. The last past is particularly powerful as I quote from the words of the soldiers who observed the attack and the human carnage inflicted by the Federal guns and infantry. As much as I despised the cause of those brave soldiers, I cannot help but to admire their courage in making that attack, call it the common humanity and compassion that I feel towards soldiers who are ordered to do the impossible. When we got to the Angle where Lieutenant William Cushing was killed firing his last rounds of canister at the advancing Confederates, and where the Irishmen of the 69th Pennsylvania joined with others to drive the Confedates back, I am equally amazed by the courage of those Union men.

As always we finished up at the Soldier’s Cemetery where we talked about the human cost of war, and the moves on to talk about the importance of the Gettysburg Address, in particular its relationship to the Declaration of Indpendence and that proposition that is the heart and soul of what makes America different than any other country. The proposition that all men are created equal, and that we are not a nation founded on race, ethnicity, or religion, but on a proposition that most of the world envies, and which we ourselves so often neglect out of fear, of others, much to our detriment. 

So I will write more later to post tomorrow. But for now I am yours.


Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Gettysburg and Ghosts

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am back up at Gettysburg with another class. After a night of eating, teaching, and drinking some fine craft beer, I am back in my room at the 1863 Inn of Gettysburg. 

The hotel sits at the base of East Cemetery Hill where the right wing of Harry Hay’s brigade, the Louisiana Tigers, made their attack on the night of July 2nd 1863. The attack ended in failure and the Federal Troops held their ground and drove the Louisiana troops back. 

Since the hotel opened in the 1960s there have been many reports of paranormal activity. Usually the people are awakened by what appear to be Confederate soldiers near their beds.

So when I booked the rooms for the class I asked the manager to put me in one of the rooms where such activity has been reported. Now, after my night out with our students I am ensconced in my room and hoping that tonight or tomorrow that I might encounter one of these reported spirits. If I only had the gear of the various ghost hunters it would be really cool, but I don’t, so oh well. I guess if I do see one I will be okay, so long as I don’t go throwing myself out of bed and break another bone in my face.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+

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America is Great because America is Good

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

With the except of a few tweets or Facebook comments I have kept relatively silent about politics, but even though I have been relatively quiet I have been listening, watching, and reading. I have been watching parts of the Democratic National Convention and following what people from all parts of the political spectrum have been saying about it. While some diehard Trump supporters and former Bernie supporters who are pissed off that Bernie is more of a realist than them, I can only say that what has transpired in Philadelphia was 180 degrees different than that of the Dark Lord Trump in Cleveland. It was inspiring, it was the belief in the America that I grew up believing. As the son of a Navy Chief won served in Vietnam, as well an Iraq war and Enduring Freedom veteran, as a man who began his service during the height of the Cold War, I appreciated tonight. 

Let me say as a veteran and currently serving Navy man I was proud of what I saw and heard tonight. Instead of a convention that tore down the very ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Gettysburg Address and painted an apocalyptic and fearful vision of fear, there was something to be proud about. There was hope, there was real passion and love for the country. There were the words of Khazr Kahn the father of Captain Humayun Khan who was killed serving in Iraq, which were so moving. As a combat veteran the the words of Medal of Honor winner Captain Florent Groberg, and the words of retired Marine Corps General John Allen meant a great deal to me. To see most delegates shouting USA as these men spoke was so different than the way that that same chant was done in Cleveland, instead of a chant of exclusion, it was a celebration of who were are as Americans. Last week that chant was frightening because it accompanied a message that threatened our allies, encouraged our enemies, and demonized other Americans. This week it made me proud. 

Those who really know me know that for me party politics has never been an obsession. I was a Republican for 32 years. Before I could vote I worked for the Ford campaign as a volunteer. I voted for Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush. But that was before Iraq and when I came home I was different, and in spite of everything that was , I came to believe in the promise of America again, and remembering the men and women who I knew who gave the last full measure of devotion to duty, I re-embraced the challenge of Abraham Lincoln 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- 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, and for the people shall not perish from the face of the earth.” 

I was pleased to see the Democratic Party return to a being party of liberal progressivism, as well as values, faith, and patriotism. It was a convention that reflected hope and realism. 

I honestly don’t ask people to agree with me as I believe that all Americans have a right to their political beliefs, and as I have for nearly 35 years I still pledge my life and my sacred honor to do that. But I was proud tonight, I was proud of another child of a Navy Chief, Hillary Clinton. 

I head up to Gettysburg again today with yet another class, and I am glad to be doing so. Every time I go I am inspired and rededicate myself to serving. 

So have a great day. 


Padre Steve+


Filed under News and current events, Political Commentary

Smile and the World Smiles with You: PTSD, Broken Noses, Smiles, F-Bombs, and God’s Love

 Smile and the World Smiles with You: It Looks and Feels a Lot Worse in Person, the Black Eye is Awesome

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tuesday morning began with a fucking bang. I was in the middle of one of my HD PTSD nightmares and I was rudely awakened when my face smashed into my nightstand. It’s not the first time that this is happened, and it is the second time in the past two years that the incident required a visit to the ER. I have had a lot of these incidents since returning from Iraq in2008, but thankfully only two required going in for medical treatment. The last time I required medical treatment was when in a similar nightmare, I bruised my jawbone and gave me a concussion. Today, just a gash across my face and a broken nose. The incident was so violent that it scared the hell out of Judy, Minnie, and Izzy. I woke up and felt liquid on my face and realized that I was bleeding. So I rapidly put some Kleenex to keep the blood from dripping everywhere I didn’t want to clean and stumbled into the bathroom where I was confronted with my bloodied image in the mirror. I looked like an old and out of shape MMA fighter who just had his ass kicked, but thankfully I didn’t tap out. 

Judy drove me to the Naval Medical Center, and two of the nurses both related to my situation, having both dealt with the nightmares of PTSD. One female nurse said that hers lasted over five years after returning, mine have been going on over eight years. It is one of the marks of PTSD, the fucking brain matter gets scrambled, and sometimes, no matter how much therapy you get, or how good your medication management is, shit like this happens.

That my friends is life. It may not be fair. It may not fit in with a theology that says of you pray that God will heal you, but it is life, and for that matter it is much more in keeping with scripture, and reality than the bullshit put out by the mega-church and television preacher bullshit artists who call themselves pastors, who fleece their flocks by the tune of millions of dollars every fucking day of the week. So fuck them, not that I would want to, but I digress… 

That being said, with the except of the chronic insomnia and nightmares I am doing much better when it comes to dealing with PTSD. I make accommodation for it, I avoid things that I know are likely to blow me up, and So I have a choice; I can either sulk and be angry, or while realizing how serious it is I can decide to live, to smile, and to love. So fuck it, I’m going to live and smile. I might need to start wearing a catcher’s mask to bed to keep from hurting myself when I have these high definition nightmares, but then I did play catcher in both little league and softball. 

So… What now? Well for me the answer is simple, live, love, and smile, because when you smile, no matter how fucked up things are, the world smiles with you. Laugh, and no matter how fucked up things are, and the world laughs with you; and for that matter, God might even give me a grin, because the God I believe in actuality understands and cares about real human beings and is much more concerned about our happiness than he is about the occasional F-Bomb. 

As for me, no matter what life and dealing with the effects of PTSD and TBI may be, I am still going to fucking laugh, and fucking smile. Even so I do think I will go looking for a comfortable and well fitting catcher’s mask when I get back from Gettysburg. 

Have a great night, and no matter what happens, try to smile.


Padre Steve+

P.S. I will post something about the Democratic Party National Convention tomorrow and promise to soon do something on the Trump-Putin bromance and Trump’s probable treason in the coming days. 


Filed under mental health, PTSD

A Busy Hump Day Musings…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am going to be teaching in my Ethics class at the Staff College and getting ready to take another group of students to Gettysburg this weekend. 

Over the past few days I have been working hard on the draft text that will become my second book, Mine Eyes have seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era. Likewise, I have been trying to take a rest from the barrage of political vitriol on the Internet and other media, except to take a few minutes to listen to my favorite living former President, a man who I never voted for, Bill Clinton as he shared about his relationship with Hillary. I enjoyed the speech. 

But part of why I have been trying to take a break from social media politics, is because over the past week I have managed to piss off friends and followers who are supporters of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders by making my opinions known. Truthfully, I value friendships more than having to have people agree with my political beliefs. The fact is that my views are almost certain to be in opposition to people on the extreme Right, or Left of the political spectrum. 

But that being said, while I respect my friends opinions and I try never to do things to drive wedges that would destroy relationships and never go to their social media sites to attack their candidates or positions, my opinions also matter. I also have the right to freedom of speech, the same right that I have defended for all citizens for over thirty years, but I digress… 

But anyway. I will be busy today, and because of that I am going to take it easy. I expect to write something about the Democratic National convention in the next couple of days, and I certainly post an article or two about Gettysburg and my coming trip there. 

So have a great day.


Padre Steve+

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The Paths not Chosen

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After about a week of writing about politics, history, and the very disturbing candidacy of Donald Trump, I need to take a break, not that there isn’t a lot of politics, foreign policy, and other serious subjects I could write about. But honestly I need to take a break from that, at least for a few days, for my own sanity and to get ready for another trip to Gettysburg this weekend.

So today something a bit more introspective which I think is a good question for all of us who seek the truth and take the time to examine our lives in light of all that happens to us. 

In the series the X-Files, Agent Dana Scully played by Gillian Anderson made this observation: 

“Time passes in moments… moments which, rushing past, define the path of a life, just as surely as they lead towards its end. How rarely do we stop to examine that path, to see the reasons why all things happen, to consider whether the path we take in life is our own making, or simply one into which we drift with eyes closed. But what if we could stop, pause to take stock of each precious moment before it passes? Might we then see the endless forks in the road that have shaped a life? And, seeing those choices, choose another path?”

I actually think that it is a very good question and truthfully I wonder. I wonder what my life might have been had I, or others made different decisions. How would my life be different? Or would it? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t really care.

One thing I do know is that whatever my alternate paths might have taken that I am happy. I have been able to fulfill many dreams and I do take the time to ponder all the forks in the road that have shaped my life. When I do I realize that the alternative possibilities are almost endless. Then when I think of the possibilities of alternate universes I wonder, not that there is anything wrong with that. But even so, I don’t think I would want to be on any other path, for since I was a child all that I could imagine ever being happy doing in life was serving my country in the military.  In early 1861, Ellen Boyle Ewing Sherman, the wife of William Tecumseh Sherman told Sherman “You will never be happy in this world unless you go in the army again.”  Ellen had never approved of Sherman’s previous service and in fact hated ever moment of it, but after six years of seeing her husband in civilian life, she knew that he had to return to the army. 

Twenty years ago I made a decision to volunteer to serve as a mobilized Army reservist during the Bosnia crisis. It was a decision that changed my life. I had left active duty in 1988 to attend seminary while remaining in the National Guard and the Reserves, and when I was mobilized I lost my civilian employment, and two and a half years later when I was offered the chance to go on active duty in the Navy, even though it meant a reduction in rank, I did it. 

When I think of all the things that transpired to get me when I am today I really am astounded, and for the life of me I don’t see how I could have chosen another path. It has been twenty years since I volunteered to support the Bosnia operation, and almost thirty-five years since I first enlisted in the army, and like Sherman, I cannot have imagined doing anything different. As for my wife Judy, she, like Ellen Sherman was with her husband has been long suffering in staying with me all these years, and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone. 

When I look at my life in total, there are many things that I might have wanted to change or do differently, but if I had, or for that matter,mad someone else made a different decision concerning my life, the tapestry that has been my life would be very different and I might not even recognize me if any of those paths had been chosen, by me, or by others. 

Agent Scully’s words got me thinking and pondering and that my friends is a good thing. 

So until the next fork in the road….


Padre Steve+

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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.


Padre Steve+

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


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.


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,


Padre Steve+


Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

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.


Padre Steve+

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I Alone Can Fix It: Trump’s Dictatorial Message


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+


Filed under faith, History, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary