Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Today is the 71st anniversary of the opening of the Nuremberg Trials. I write about this a lot and I know some people, even so-called progressives have told me that they know the Nazis were evil and that they don’t want to hear it, while alleged conservatives vehemently object because they do not believe that such things can happen again.
However that is not the point. The reason I post things like this is because the players in the drama are representative of humanity, and humanity is the one constant in all history. Human beings and their propensity for good as well as evil is what these posts are about, and the fact is that any human being is capable of committing such crimes or turning a blind eye to them, to simply go along with the system and not to make waves. That is part of human nature, we value liberty, but that liberty lies in our hearts, and when it dies there, it dies. As the great American jurist Learned Hand said:
“I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon law and upon courts. These are false hopes, believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”
When that spirit of liberty is lost, when that sensitivity to the rights and needs of others trampled, when a desire for revenge and getting even displaces civility and compassion; there is nothing than stop evil, for evil will find ways to justify their evil deeds under the cloak of legality. That is what Germany did in the 1930s and what I believe may happen in the United States and other Western nations as the wave of populism and xenophobic racism sweeps the globe. Robert Jackson said, “The most odious of all oppressions are those which mask as justice.”
That is why it is so important to remember the evil that we as human beings are capable of and not to run roughshod over the rights of those with whom we disagree. Since the election of Donald Trump I have seen many comments of his supporters and the well documented writings and opinions of three of first appointees, Stephen Bannon, Michael Flynn, and Jeff Sessions. All have extensive writings and comments which advocate policies designed to limit freedom and excise whole groups from the United States. His supporters are condemning all forms of protest or opinions that disagree with theirs, and the President Elect jumps to his Twitter account to blast anyone who insults or criticizes him. Nothing in American history is comparable to the thin-skinned inability to tolerate dissent that is happening now.
In our country we have seldom had to fear that the outcome of an election could erase liberty, but it is possible now. Jackson noted, “One’s right to life, liberty, and property depends on the outcome of no election.” But it seems that this election may test that premise, the premise that Jackson so eruditely enunciated:
“The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy. One’s right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly may not be submitted to vote; they depend on no elections.”
I do fear for what the future holds because of the many statements made by Donald Trump and his supporters during the campaign and even after. While I am willing to give the new President the benefit of the doubt, and hope that he will rise to the occasion, I wonder if that will happen, and for now I wait, and I send up warnings from history.