Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I just finished reading my hard cover copy of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory and it was a far different experience than reading it on a computer or iPad screen while making edit after edit. The editing process was clinical and nothing like reading it in the flesh, it was to maybe misuse a term “sensual.” As I read it I found it hard to believe that when I started writing it, that it was just an introductory chapter to my Gettysburg Staff ride text regarding the role of religion and ideology to the men that fought the American Civil War.
Never in my wildest imagination did I expect that wildly aggrieved White Americans, following the lead of Donald Trump would have denied the results of a completely legitimate election, and assaulted Congress when it was in session to formally certify the results of the Electoral College. Nor did I then imagine that a former President and his followers would continue to deny election results long after he was out of office and the results were certified. Nor could I imagine at any former President would abscond with highly classified documents, not comply with subpoenas to return them and that the Justice Department and have to get a warrant to search his residence and retrieve them. Nor did I expect members of a political party supposedly committed to the “Rule of Law” to target FBI agents, other Federal Law Enforcement agencies and Judges for death because of a legal search.
Now my book is out and available for purchase at Amazon and will be available in bookstores on October 1st. But as I was thinking about what I had written and current events I began to ruminate on it I came up with this little essay.
Though the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th overturned the “Dred Scott” decision to give Blacks citizenship, and the 15th granted Black men suffrage, the ghosts of racism and twin myths of the Noble South and Lost Cause still haunt our Nation and contribute to our current divide. Sadly, the curse of White Supremacy and Christian Nationalism, which were prominent in causing the Civil War, defeated Reconstruction, and restored White rule remain a clear and present danger today.
Unlike 1860, ours is not a sectional divide, but a nationwide racial, religious and political chasm. The changing racial and religious demographics of the country, the passage of laws that gave Blacks, other minorities, Women, and LGBTQ+ people civil and voting rights echoing Abraham Lincoln’s understanding of ever increasing liberty found in the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” provide grist for grievance.
The growing tensions exploded after Barack Obama shattered the Color barrier of the presidency, provoking massive growth in violent, militarized White Supremacist and anti-Semitic groups, and the dramatic reemergence of the “Great Replacement“ conspiracy theory. Conservative Christians found more grievance when LGBTQ+ citizens gained equal rights including marriage. In Donald Trump, these aggravated groups found a man who catered to their grievances and perceived victimhood. Trump’s ideas redound today in the pronouncements of many Republican elected officials who subordinate themselves to Trump, including all of the 2016 presidential candidates, who he mocked, insulted, and belittled at every turn.
Trump and his propagandists play upon the same fears of “White Replacement” evoked by Southern leaders and Secession Commissioners. Historian Charles Dew portrayed Georgia Supreme Court Justice and Secession Commissioner Henry Benning’s apocalyptic vision of the outcome of a Northern invasion of the South; he told his audience, “We will be overpowered and our men compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and for our women, the horrors of their state cannot contemplate in imagination.” This then, was “the fate that Abolition will bring upon the white race. . . . We will be exterminated”.
Trump encourages violence. The politicians, pundits, and preachers who serve as his propagandists whip his followers into a frenzy of hatred reminiscent of the worst moments in our history. This is evidenced by mass murders at Black churches, supermarkets, Jewish synagogues and community centers, and what amount to be lynchings of Black men by Whites.
On June 1st 2020, Trump used a violent attack by Secret Service, Park Police, Washington Metropolitan Police, and Bureau of Prisons officers against peaceful citizens in Lafayette Park gathered to protest the murder of George Floyd, as cover for a photo-op with a Bible outside St. John’s Church. The next day he tweeted with pride about the “Overwhelming Force and Domination” used by police. The violence echoed police attacks on Civil Rights marchers in the 1960s.
Trump’s “Big Lie” of the “stolen” election and the assault on the Capitol echoed the violence of the Confederate response to Lincoln’s election. In 1861 Southern Slave States seceded from the Union, seized Federal facilities, mints, armories, and military bases, and opened fire on Fort Sumter, beginning the bloodiest war in American history.
Some of Trump’s followers call for violence and civil war following the FBI’s legal search of Trump’s Mar a Lago home. Instead of trying to calm them, Trump and acolytes like Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, and Republican office holders or candidates continue to incite violence against law enforcement.
Lincoln mistakenly believed that Southerners would come to their senses and calls for secession and civil war would lessen after the 1860 election. Only fools would believe that Trump and his followers will back down now, in light of the January 6th insurrection and the mounting number of criminal and civil investigations against Trump. Like Southerners in 1860 they feel cornered, and are lashing out against their best interests.
Religious intolerance fuels race hatred. Authoritarian leaders like Trump fuse religious and the politics of race in a ruthless drive for political power. History, including ours shows that the result of such fusion results in war, and crimes against humanity. The damage to the victims, perpetrators, and society is felt for generations.
Like the antebellum period, faith has emerged as a political weapon. “But,” wrote British historian and military theorist B. H. Liddell- Hart, “one should still be able to appreciate the point of view of those who fear the consequences. Faith matters so much in times of crisis. One must have gone deep into history before reaching the conviction that truth matters more.” The Confederacy’s ghosts still haunt us through White Supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and Donald Trump. We must learn the lessons, or see our democracy torn asunder from within, with blood flowing in our streets.