Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
We returned from a visit with our friends near Washington D.C. and I am a bit tired and want to do some reading before getting ready for bed. While we were there I visited the Holocaust Museum and I also finished reading Dr. Timothy Snyder’s new book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, and the United States. As I mentioned last night I have become very reflective in light of those things and what I see going on in our country today.
Since I am tired I am going to repost a slightly modified article from about a year ago. I think that it is as timely now as when I first wrote it, and I hope that it will resonate with my readers. Historian Ian Kershaw wrote: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.” I find that comment all too real today when I look at the President, his propagandists, and those who follow him without question even when they know that he is lying to them.
The longer that I live the more that I understand how this happens. Today, as there were in 1930s and 1940s Nazi Germany, there are all too many hate-filled ideologues who desire to destroy or subjugate entire races and ethnic groups, or members of different religions or political ideologies. In the United States they have free reign to do speak and write freely about their goals and for many years we have regarded most of them as fringe characters who had no chance of ever enacting anything that they proposed. Many of these were and continue to be the most vocal supporters of President Trump, and see in him a man who will help them accomplish their desires as no President has done before. One of them, Steve Bannon serves as his chief policy adviser and strategist, and there are no shortage of civil rights opponents and proponents of a police state in his cabinet, including his Attorney General.
The sad thing is despite the myriad of actions taken by the Trump administration, its abuses of power, its probable connections to a hostile power, its attempts to shut down law enforcement probes of the Russia connections, its unabashed attempts to silence the press and all other opponents, and its nearly uncountable number of lies and distortions that it makes on a daily basis; that the vast majority of Congressional Republicans nor his followers seem to care. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of opposition, but among his followers and the great number of people in the middle who prefer not to get involved there is little real opposition; moral, religious, ethical, or political to anything that he says or does, mostly because they do not understand how it effects them or their liberties, nor how toxic it is to the nation. It seems to me that they are not only apathetic to the abuses of power, but have no empathy towards the people that they are directed against.
For the Trump supporters this is not a problem. He represents a chance for them to recover their greatness, just as Hitler did for many of his followers in the 1930s, including those who joined the Party late. One of the greatest film monologues that illustrated this phenomenon is that of Burt Lancaster in his portrayal of a Nazi judge who is on trial in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. His comments remind me so much of what I see among many Trump supporters today:
“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”
While we have not reached the point that the Third Reich did between 1933 and 1938, it would not take much for us to get there. We misjudge ourselves if we belief that such things cannot happen here, as Timothy Snyder wrote: “The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American theologian noted: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”
We should heed their warnings before we cross that precipice and head into the abyss.