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McCarthy to Cohn to Trump and Judgment at Nuremberg: Will You Make Your Life Excrement or Tell the Truth?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have written about the classic film Judgment at Nuremberg many times. I am doing it again because I have been doing a lot of reading about some of the other war crimes trials conducted in post-World War II Germany, and I have been following the abject racism and white nationalism being espoused at the 2020 Republican National Convention, which might was we’ll be called the Trump Party Coronation Celebration, rather than anything that ever related to a political convention staged by any political party in American History.

In fact the GOP has subordinated itself to Trump so much that they did not even bother to publish a party platform, other than pledge their undying and absolute loyalty to the policies and actions of Trump; which change from minute to minute because of his emotional immaturity, need for control and approval, even the approval of bonafide dictators like Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi, North Korea’s Kim, and Turkey’s Erdogan. The list of dictators he admires could go on and on, but I will leave it with them, because honestly such pathetic people bore me, as does Trump. Like them, Trump will lie underneath the dung heap of history whether he wins this election or not, because there is nothing redeeming in his life, character, or actions.

Today I am following my writings about Trump and the 2020 Trump Coronation with another post regarding two of the most riveting monologues in film history, from the great drama, Judgement at Nuremberg, which is unique not simply because it dealt with the trial of the Nazi Judges, but because it took direct aim at the actions of Senator Joe McCarthy, and others who spread fear and terrorized the nation in the name of Blind patriotism and toxic nationalism. That makes it doubly interesting, but to twist the pretzel a bit further, McCarthy’s chief counsel and advisor was Roy Cohn, the future advisor and mentor to President Trump. There can be no greater connection of evil in American Politics, and it sounds like the perfect double play of evil, McCarthy to Cohn to Trump.

McCarthy and Roy Cohn and Trump and Cohn Below

 

McCarthy was directly responsible for the deaths of many and his shameless campaign to destroy the lives and reputations of thousands of loyal and decent Americans of all walks of life. This included men General and Secretary of State George Marshall, who not only helped lead the Allies to victory in the Second World War, but helped engineer the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan to bring Western Europe out of the abyss of war and Naziism.

Sadly, when McCarthy launched his attack on Marshall, Marshall’s friend and colleague of many years, Dwight Eisenhower did not speak up for him for fear of losing Wisconsin in the 1952 election. He won the state handily not needing the support of McCarthy.  However, Eisenhower, instead of making a frontal attack to condemn McCarthy decided to let McCarthy burn himself out. In the following year and a half McCarthy ruined more lives and had the highest approval rating of any politician, in the land, has except Eisenhower. Then, riding high in the polls  McCarthy went after the Army, accusing its leaders of being Communists or supporting Communism. However, the counsel for the Army, Joseph Welch went on the attack and  destroyed McCarthy and his campaign of lies and smears. His classic reply to McCarthy and Cohn was devastating, interrupting Cohen’s diatribe Welch exclaimed “Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” It was a pivotal moment. Afterward, McCarthy’s polls crashed, the hearing were ended, Cohn resigned as McCarthy’s Counsel and McCarthy was censured by the Senate. He never recovered his previous prominence.  He died at the age of 48 of hepatitis. That being said a significant part of the American political Right Wing still admires McCarthy just as they do Trump. The reason as Welch asked McCarthy and Cohn I ask any defender of Trump: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last have you no sense of decency?” Of course that is a rhetorical question, because anyone who would defend Trump today has surrendered all decency.

So on to Judgment at Nuremberg… 

In this segment of the film, which is a fictionalized version of the Judges Trial, Burt Lancaster plays an accused German Judge and Spencer Tracy plays the role of Chief Judge Dan Heywood who gives his verdict is one of the most telling sequences in cinema regarding what it means to be an American. I used to show it in the first session of my military ethics class at the Staff College and since the majority of my students had never seen the film, it usually left them in silence. So tonight I am just going to leave it with you to watch, read, and contemplate. Ask yourself, who are we, and what do we stand for?

https://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechjudgmentatnuremberg1.html

This is especially true when the President, politicians of the majority party in the legislature, pundits, and politically minded preachers make no bones that they have every intent of persecuting those who are of certain races, religions, or political beliefs that they abhor, often using the most scurrilous charges, and outright lies in order to demonize them, dehumanize them, and  open the door for normal, decent, and even brilliant people to justify government sponsored cruelty and injustice that defies the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution itself.

Please, watch the videos and read the text. Ponder them your heart, because they speak to something that is not a historical aberration, not just a dramatic film, but something that affects the human condition and is present right here and right now in our own country.

First we deal with Lancaster and his portrayal of Ernst Janning, who in any other time would have been and remained a respected jurist with an international following. At the end of the trial he interrupted his defense attorney played by Maximilian Schell to say:

“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.

I had reached my verdict on the Feldenstein case before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty, whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual in which Feldenstein, the Jew, was the helpless victim.

Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must interrupt. The defendant is not aware of what he’s saying. He’s not aware of the implications!

Janning: I am aware. I am aware! My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps. Not aware. Where were we? Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in Reichstag? Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau?! Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried off to their extermination?! Where were we when they cried out in the night to us. Were we deaf? Dumb?! Blind?!!

Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must protest!

Janning: My counsel says we were not aware of the extermination of the millions. He would give you the excuse: We were only aware of the extermination of the hundreds. Does that make us any the less guilty? Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.

Emil Hahn: Traitor! Traitor!

Judge Haywood: Order! Order! Order! Put that man [Hahn] back in his seat and keep him there.

Janning: I am going to tell them the truth. I am going to tell them the truth if the whole world conspires against it. I am going to tell them the truth about their Ministry of Justice. Werner Lammpe, an old man who cries into his Bible now, an old man who profited by the property expropriation of every man he sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich Hofstetter, the “good German” who knew how to take orders, who sent men before him to be sterilized like so many digits. Emil Hahn, the decayed, corrupt bigot, obsessed by the evil within himself. And Ernst Janning, worse than any of them because he knew what they were, and he went along with them.

Ernst Janning, who made his life excrement, because he walked with them.

The next is the summation of the trial by Judge Haywood.

https://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechjudgmentatnuremberg3.html

“The trial conducted before this Tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than ten thousand pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded.

Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.

Herr Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this. The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the Tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions, men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men, men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees, the purpose of which was the extermination of humans beings, men who in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws — illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.

Herr Rolfe further asserts that the defendant, Janning, was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of this country. There is truth in this also. Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. 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 at through 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.”

Think about it. I hope in the age of the faux patriotism and blind racist nationalism of the Trump Regime that it makes you uncomfortable as hell if you follow him unequivocally, or turn a blind eye to his crimes.

Have a nice night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Trump’s Virtual Nuremberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On March 5th 1933 the Nazi Party secured enough seats in the German Reichstag to form a coalition government with the German People’s Nationalist Party (DVNP). The Nazis won 43.9% of the vote in an election in which Hitler expected to gain an absolute majority. Hitler had gained power through the appointment of President Hindenburg on January 30th following a series of failed attempts by Conservative party leaders to form a stable government. In the month preceding the election Hitler gained the upper hand when a Dutch Communist, acting alone set fire to the Reichstag building.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”

In the wake of the Reichstag Fire and under Article 48 of the the Reichstag Fire Decree Hitler mobilized 50,000 SA and SS men as auxiliary police in Prussia. Opposition parties were harassed, their newspapers shut down, leaders, especially Communists, jailed. Hermann Goering issued an order that police could open fire on any opposition. One really couldn’t call it free, but it would be the last contested election held in Germany until after her defeat and Hitler’s death.

Within two weeks the now Nazi controlled Reichstag voted for the Enabling Act, a law that in effect made it obsolete. The Act gave Hitler dictatorial powers, powers he would never willingly give up.

 

Within three months all the other German political parties were either banned or dissolved themselves. Independent newspapers were closed, or placed under Nazi propaganda supervision. Members of racial or religious minorities were persecuted and saw their citizenship rights curtailed or abolished. Political opponents or dissenting pastors and priests were placed in Concentration Camps.

Over the course of the spring and summer of 2020 we have seen the President deny, lie, and obfuscate his way through the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, all the while casting the people actually fighting the disease as alarmist, liars, and political partisans. But it was his actions going back to ignoring intelligence warnings as early as last December that has resulted in the deaths of over 180,000 Americans, and the infection of nearly six million more. Oh, and let’s talk about many of the survivors, they have been afflicted with life long medical condition due to this, and sadly because the President is more interesting in using it as a political bludgeon, promoting discredited miracle cures and pushing the DEA to approve treatments that have not endured the scrutiny of peer reviewed results.

Of course we can go to the unbridled racism ignited by the President beginning with the announcement of his candidacy in 2015, of course there was his response to Charlottesville in 2017, his consistent approval of White Supremacists, Neo Nazis, and Neo Confederates since then, and most recently his approval of the QANON conspiracy theorists who have been called Domestic Terrorists by Federal law enforcement authorities. QANON followers have resorted to violence and threats, and a willingness to ignore facts and truth to their apocalyptic world view and their certain belief that President Trump is central to their cultish beliefs. Sadly their numbers include many self-styled Evangelical Christians. 

I won’t go into the influence of foreign governments working on the President’s behalf in 2016 now, that will be exposed by any number of ongoing investigations as well as those beginning in the House of Representatives. However, just before the Convention began the GOP issued this statement, effectively seeding the control of their party to a madman bent on authoritarian dictatorship. The GOP released this statement:

“RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda,” reads a one-page RNC resolution. “The 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention.”

This makes it the servant of an authoritarian ruler with sights on becoming a dictator. 1933 “Ein Reich! Ein Volk! Ein Führer!” Or maybe a variation on another Nazi slogan “Trump is the GOP, the GOP is Trump!” Of course in Nazi Germany the statement was “Hitler is Germany, Germany is Hitler!” 

 


Despite the factual and empirical evidence of the President’s failures his cult pretends that he is their Messiah. The President’s speeches and “press conferences” are almost always a panoply of racist tropes, scurrilous accusations, profanity, and lie after lie. He has openly threatened opponents, including those of his own party in ways I have never seen by any President of any party.

In every political speech or campaign stump speech I have ever seen him give, and I actually attended one of his rallies in October 2016, he appears possessed or under the influence of heavy doses of Amphetamines, I have compared each to a Nuremberg Party Rally, the kind that followed Hitler’s takeover. However, to keep my sanity I did not tune in and will not watch the GOP Convention, I wanted to watch some of the DNC Convention last week but events overwhelmed me. Instead I had to catch up on the speeches and events by news articles and videos. I imagine I will do the same this week, not because of events that keep me from doing so, but because I hate it when religious cultist Try to shove their crap down my throat. I send them away when the come to my door and I will be damned if I allow their poison to be fed live without interruption into my house.

I mused upon the 2019 approval numbers, 43.9%, not even a majority of the vote, just like 2016 when he lost the popular voted by over 3 million votes. The President’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen has warned us that if Trump loses the 2020 election, that there will not be a smooth transition of power. Neither Trump nor his followers will abide it. At the present the President’s approval rating remains below 40% and he continues to lose ground in most of the swing states that by a tiny sliver of the vote gained him enough Electoral College votes to claim the presidency.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The hero of a David Lodge novel says that you don’t know, when you make love for the last time, that you are making love for the last time. Voting is like that. Some of the Germans who voted for the Nazi Party in 1932 no doubt understood that this might be the last meaningfully free election for some time, but most did not. Some of the Czechs and Slovaks who voted for the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1946 probably realized that they were voting for the end of democracy, but most assumed they would have another chance. No doubt the Russians who voted in 1990 did not think that this would be the last free and fair election in their country’s history, which (thus far) it has been. Any election can be the last, or at least the last in the lifetime of the person casting the vote.”

Imagine, a militant minority led by an unstable and volatile con man ruling in an authoritarian state after overwhelming its Constitution and institutions. It is already beginning, and it will happen if President Trump legally or illegally retains power.

Tonight, he and those who spoke for him did not present an optimistic or hopeful vision for the country. They spoke to the dystopian and apocalyptic fears of their base, striking repeatedly on stopping the invasion of Blacks into the suburbs, of the threat of Latino immigrants, legal, and illegal, The use of the China Virus to describe the COVID19 pandemic, ignoring the Administrations’ response as well as the many GOP controlled state houses response, and the pressures put by the administration on states that had the virus under control until the yielded to the pressure of the President, his administration and his followers.

Because of this the economy and our society are in shambles. For that the President and his cult have to take credit. Over 10% unemployment, industries that are shuttering forever, and much of our service based economy shattered. We still do not have enough PPE for hospital or other essential workers, we have an anti-masking campaign mostly fronted by QANON followers and other wackos, and the administration is pushing for the full reopening of schools despite the recommendations of scientists, public health experts, and teachers when there are no universal regulations of when opening is safe and certainly no effort in many states to enforce social distancing or wearing of masks by students. The result will bring only more deaths, more infections, and lead to the closing of schools, and businesses at an ever increasing rate until the jackals of Wall Street finally realize that this is terribly bad for the economy, and the markets crash for an extended time.

Milton Mayer wrote of an encounter with a German colleague at a German University after the war. His friend noted:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

So take these words into your hearts and minds. “Resist the beginnings… Consider the end.”

But the end is something Snyder reminds us:

“The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.”

Sadly, many, especially in the GOP have refused to do so. I will not make any more comments about the Trump Party Convention this week. I have no reason to expect that it will improve and I have better things to write about, and live for.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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If Liberty Dies in Our Hearts, no Constitution Law or Court Can Save It: A Meditation on Independence Day in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been contemplating the ideas of liberty and freedom this week. I intentionally did not watch the President’s speech at Mount Rushmore for after what he did at Lafayette Park and in front of St. John’s Church on June 2nd showed me that when he speaks of freedom, he speaks of his own, and when he speaks of liberty it is for the few, and servitude for the masses, and yes those masses include the bulk of the men and women that blindly follow him. So instead I read the official transcript today and look at images and videos as well.

Nothing I read in it surprised me. It was as scripted as Leni Reifenstahl’s Film of the Nuremberg rallies, right to Trump making a flyover in Air Force One. After a series of platitudes invoking the President’s whose images are carved on that mountain, and a brief mention of American greatness, which he promised would “soon be greater.”  He made a perfunctory reference to the Declaration’s words that “all men are created equal,” words that only serve to camouflage a life and presidency that denies them, the protections of the Bill of Rights, and the guardrails of the Constitution and our institutions that curb the ability of one man to violate the Constitution and our laws, and surrender our nation into the hands of an avowed enemy, Russia, in word, thought, and deed.

He then went into a diatribe against attacking statues and memorials around the country, without mentioning that the primary memorials were those to Confederates, Slave Owners, traders, as well as those that helped exterminate the vast majority of indigenous, or native peoples of this land including the ancestors of the people who protested outside the park, for the land had been ceded to their ancestors in the Treaty of Laramie of 1868, and was considered sacred to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Sioux, and Arapahoe tribes that agreed to that treaty with the United States. .I will come back to that later.

Interestingly, he mentioned the Battle of Gettysburg and other Civil War battles without mentioning why they were fought, at was as if the rebellion of the Confederacy a nation founded “upon the cornerstone of slavery,”  In Trump’s speech it was was if the cause of the Confederate rebellion never existed, and the lives shed to preserve the Union and in turn emancipate Black slaves didn’t matter. Like everything else in  his speech it was designed to camouflage and obscure his actions to disenfranchise Blacks, and to treat them as less than citizens, because for him the understanding is that Black Rights do not matter, and the rallying cry of many “Black Lives Matter” is uniquely anti-American and anti-freedom, that is his understanding that it is his freedom, and the liberty of the few that matter. No one else.

Of course  slavery, its continued existence where it was already legal as well is expansion by whatever means into new territories, reintroducing it to the Free States, and invading Cuba, and Central American nations to expand it, was the first reason cited in every Confederate State’s ordinance of Secession, and in Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’  Cornerstone Speech. 

In his speech, Trump never mentioned slavery, emancipation, of for that matter the evils committed in the name of racism against newly freed Blacks, Jim Crow, the thousands of Lynchings, the massacre of whole towns, or sections of cities by the terrorist paramilitaries of the White Leagues, Red Shirts, White Liners, and of course the Ku Klux Klan, of which Trump’s father was a member of, even being arrested at a Klan demonstration in New York in the 1920s.

He made no distinctions, but lumped anyone who disagreed with him into people who hated the United States and it’s history and were determined to overthrow America. It was a speech as vilifying as any made by Senator Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare of the 1950s. This should not be surprising, because Trump’s mentor was none other than McCarthy’s counsel when he was shot down in his crusade to accuse Army leaders of being communists, or supporting communism, Roy Cohn, in 1954.

In effect Trump declared over 60% of Americans were revolutionaries and traitors, with the implication that only he could stop them. It was about his authoritarian vision of Law and Order. It was Orwellian in structure. Based on his actions at Lafayette Park, I know what he will do if he feels threatened. His speech at Mount Rushmore was a prelude to what he will do if he gets the chance, and if the military follows his orders. As a historian I wanted to throw up.

But, back to that mountain and the land around it. As I mentioned, that land was ceded by treaty to the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Sioux, and the Arapaho in 1868. The treaty was to be observed by all parties. Instead in less than years, the treaty was revoked with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills  in 1877, though incidents of U.S. citizens violating the treaty went unpunished by the U.S. Government which also hamstrung and prevented the Sioux from punishing offenders. For Americans guided by Manifest Destiny it was only the latest action in a century of American crimes against humanity in the continued genocide of the indigenous tribes that began when Europeans colonized the Americas beginning in the 1500s, but in the British colonies beginning beginning at Jamestown in 1607, and the Plymouth Bay, later the Massachusetts Bay Colony a Little over a decade later.

Judge Learned Hand 

I will finish this article with an excerpt of Judge Learned Hand, of the 2nd Appeals Court, considered by many to be the greatest American jurist never appointed to the Supreme Court. In his I am an American Speech of May 21st 1944 in New York’s Central Park he addressed nearly a million and a half people, in a speech given at a naturalization ceremony for new immigrant citizens. In it he stressed that all Americans were immigrants who had come to America in search of liberty. Liberty, he said, was not located in America’s constitutions, laws, and courts, but in the hearts of the people.

In the most frequently cited section of the speech he said:

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws 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… What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. 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; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

The interesting thing is that while Hand referenced Jesus in the speech, is that he had abandoned the Christian Faith while at Harvard, and became an agnostic and skeptic, that he at least hoped for some kind of cosmic justice where the least would be equal to the greatest. Likewise, his words as to what freedom really is stand in stark contrast to everything Trump and his loyal supporters who consider everyone else an enemy and traitor, as Hand so rightly predicted:

What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

Sadly, we have seen that happen before our very eyes and it will continue for as long as Trump is in power or people who follow his  totalitarian beliefs, and perversions of history, overt racism, and denial of civil, voting, economic and religious rights of his opponents is practiced, be it at the Federal, state, or local level. Trump and his most committed followers are savage, with no understanding, appreciation, or respect of the culture, laws, and freedoms, they presume to defend.

Tonight, I watched the film Gettysburg. It is one of my favorites, even though it can cut though its errors, and somewhat mythologized depiction of some of the leaders portrayed in the movie. But in it there is an exchange between Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and an old Irish former Regular Army soldier named Buster Kilrain, who is more of a composite character than an actual historical character, but it is worth mentioning, because it contradicts everything that Trump shows in thought, word and deed on a daily basis. I can identify with Kilrain. As someone who is roughly 43% Irish by my DNA, and the son of a Navy Chief, educated in desegregated public schools and universities, I could not be considered a part of Trump’s sheltered rich, white elite. Likewise, as a Priest, career military officer and seminary graduate, there is much I can identify with in Chamberlain. The dialogue between the men is fascinating because it reveals my own inner struggle as a human being.

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: Tell me something, Buster. What do you think of Negroes?

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Well, if you mean the race, I don’t really know. This is not a thing to be ashamed of. The thing is, you cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time.

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: To me, there was never any difference.

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: None at all?

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: None at all. Of course, I haven’t known that many freed men, but those I knew in Bangor, Portland, you look in the eye, there was a man. There was a “divine spark,” as my mother used to call it. That is all there is to it. Races are men. “What a piece of work is man. How infinite in faculties, in form and moving. How express and admirable. In action, how like an angel.”

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel. Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a great vast difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel, there is no “divine spark.” There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country. Equality? What I’m fighting for is the right to prove I’m a better man than many of them. Where have you seen this “divine spark” in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance. Not a leaf, not a tree. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel, is  justice. Which is why I’m here. I’ll be treated as I deserve. Not as my father deserved. I’m Kilrain, and I damn all gentlemen. There is only one aristocracy, and that is right here. [taps his temple]And that’s why we’ve got to win this war.

Today, I find myself agreeing with them and Judge Learned Hand. President Trump has declared war on a majority of American citizens, including me. On June 2nd for the first time in my life I felt like a President of the United States was threatening me, as a Priest, a citizen, and Naval Officer. I felt that again in his Mount Rushmore speech. I will respect his office and obey lawful orders, but my oath is to the Constitution of the United States, and not political leader or party. I will not remain silent when he attacks the very foundations of the United States to protect the racist monuments of the Confederacy and the other sordid actions of Americans, and other people who enslaved and committed genocide in the name of race and religion.

Donald Trump is an existential threat to every American who values liberty and freedom, and a man who would destroy his country in order to enrich and save himself, although I wonder if there can be salvation for anyone like him.

So, don’t forget why Independence Day matters, what our history really teaches, and that those who oppose Trump do not want to overthrow the United States, but seek to uphold and advance its highest ideals while being absolutely honest as to where we have failed as individuals and a nation to do so. That is patriotism. What Trump proclaims is a toxic nationalism. Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.

Trump is a nationalist in the tradition of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Putin, the Kims of North Korea, Erdogan, and so many other nationalists only concerned about their power over a state that can make their wishes come true.

So until tomorrow, with thoughts of true freedom, independence and the protections of basic human rights for all,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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