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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 Native American Indians, 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.

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.

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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Padre Steve’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Mascot Picks

NCAA-2013-bracket1

I don’t always follow basketball but every year I am drawn to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament like a vulture drawn to fresh roadkill. This year I have entered a couple of different brackets to pick who I think will win the tournament. I did one based on records and conferences, statistics and coaches. I will not reveal the secrets of that bracket because unlike baseball I know almost nothing about basketball except that it is played by people a lot taller than me who can both jump and actually throw a basketball through a hoop. Thus those picks are under lockdown. If I win the pool I’ll beat on my chest and say what an expert that I am, get hired by ESPN as an analyst and live happily ever after at least for a season or two until I get fired because I really don’t know what I am talking about. But then there are guys that have been doing that for decades why can’t I join them? But I digress….

Now I know that there are a lot of people who use various means to pick the tournament winners. But this is not baseball and none of these people are Bill James the Saber metrics guru. Again as I said I am not an expert when it comes to basketball. However I do know something about mascots and it happens that every team has one. Some are animals of various types, others some kind of human hero, others something to do with mountains, nature and even the supernatural. I figure that why not do another bracket based on my intuition of how the mascots would do. Unfortunately a lot of the teams had the same mascots so in picking I had to make sure that none of the mascots ended up facing their alternate universe self.

So to make the simple difficult I will break this up into the geography of the NCAA tournament which generally corresponds to the regions of the United States, the Midwest, the West, the South and the East. Obviously there is no such thing as the North in our country otherwise the Glenda the Good Witch of the North would have made sure that it still existed.

The Midwest Regional

In the NCAA Midwest the Louisville Cardinals meet the Aggies of North Carolina A&T. Cardinals are pretty mean birds and Aggies are not well known for outsmarting things. So Cardinals beat Aggies. The Colorado State Rams will play the Missouri Tigers and as anyone knows a Tiger beats a Ram any day of the week. In the second round it comes down to nature. Cats eat birds, thus Missouri goes to the Sweet Sixteen.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys play the Oregon Ducks in the first round and while Cowboys may do great against Indians and Buffalo they are no match for a Ducks. The St Louis Billikens, which are some kind of weird doll will meet the New Mexico State Aggies. Yes I know that I said that Aggies are not known to be the swiftest or the toughest, but even the most limp wristed Aggie can break a china doll with no problem. But in the second round humans again are confounded by Ducks and Oregon moves on the the Sweet Sixteen.

The Memphis Tigers will play the St Mary’s Gaels. Now “what the hell is a Gael” you ask? A Gael is someone that speaks Gaelic. Tigers eat people, even Gaelic speaking ones, unless they are drunken Irishmen, but they are in a different Region. Memphis wins. The Michigan State Spartans play the Valparaiso Crusaders and this was a tough one to pick. Crusaders are tough but motivated by religion and ideology, while Spartans are just badass, kickass fighters. Spartans win. Did you see the movie 300? They move on, unless by chance a traitor comes in behind them. Still Michigan State to the Sweet Sixteen.

The Creighton Blue Jays play the Cincinnati Bearcats. Blue Jays are tough birds and mean, while no one knows if a Bearcat is a bear or a cat. Actually a Bearcat is some kind of weird looking animal like a Giant Panda found in Southeast Asia. Anyone knows that Panda are an endangered species while Bluejays are not. That in mind and the fact that the game is being played in the United States and not the Mekong Delta leads me to pick Creighton. Finally in the Midwest the Duke Blue Devils play the Albany Great Danes. This one comes down to metaphysics and spirituality. Devils only lose to God and a Great Dane is not God despite dog being God spelled backward. Thus the Blue Devils take on the Blue Jays who can’t beat the Devil. Duke to the Sweet Sixteen.

In the Sweet Sixteen Oregon’s Ducks will beat the Missouri Tigers because Ducks can both fly and go in the water and Tigers can do neither. Likewise Blue Devils beat Spartans. Spartans may be tough but they ain’t God. This means that in the regional final that the Ducks will face the Blue Devils and though Ducks may have the evil qualities of a witch, because like wood both float (see Monty Python and the Holy Grail http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp_l5ntikaU ) a witch and therefore a Duck is no match for the Devil. So the Duke Blue Devils go on to the Final Four.

The West Regional

The West Region will start with a surprise, the number one seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs will be defeated by the Southern University Jaguars. Let’s face it. Bulldogs look tough but are pretty slow and probably no match for a big cat. Southern wins. The Pittsburgh Panthers play the Wichita State Shockers. Now I know what you are thinking Panthers are a big cat, but if I recall a Shocker has something to do with electricity and cats do not do with with electricity. Wichita wins against them  and repeats against the Jaguars for the same reason, electricity kills cats. In a Shocker, Wichita moves to the Sweet Sixteen.

The Wisconsin Badgers play the Ole Miss Rebels and as anyone knows Badgers are tough and crafty and love feeding on Southern food. Badgers win. The Kansas State Wildcats will play the La Salle Explorers and Wildcats like to eat unsuspecting Explorers. K-State wins and moves on. This sets up a classic match up of the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom as the Badgers kill the Wildcats and move to the Sweet Sixteen.

The Arizona Wildcats play the Belmont Bruins and while normally I would take a Bruin over a cat of any kind any day of the week these Bruins used to be called the Rebels until 1995 and just the scenario described above Rebels don’t do well against wild animals. Even Rebels that have changed their name, it was a crafty name but nature knows the real thing. Arizona wins. The New Mexico Lobos, which is like a New Mexican Wolf play the Harvard Crimson, and crimson will be the color of the court when the Lobos devour Harvard. New Mexico Wins.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play the Iowa State Cyclones. Drunken Irishmen like to fight and are not bothered by bad weather. Notre Dame wins. The Ohio State Buckeyes play the Iona State Gaels, yet another team with an obscure mascot that is in the tournament twice. But this time the Gaels win, because anyone knows that if there is no Haggis around that any Scots-Irish-Welshman will eat whatever vegetation is available, and since a Buckeye is a tree and most parts are edible, the Iona Gaels I win.

In the West region of the Sweet Sixteen the Fighting Irish play the Lobos and once again drunken Irishmen win and move on to face the winner of the Wisconsin-Wichita State match up. In this the Shockers finally spark out because their cord won’t get deep enough into the cave of the Badgers. Wisconsin wins. In the West Regional final The Fighting Irish win again, like I said, they aren’t afraid of anything and will defeat Wisconsin.

The South Regional

In the South the Kansas Jayhawks play the Western Kentucky Hill Toppers. Now to my knowledge a Hill Topper is someone at the top of a hill but birds, particularly Hawks fly high, over hills and for me altitude is the key in the match up. Kansas wins. The North Carolina Tar Heels play the Villanova Wildcats. Now everyone knows that Tar is bad for you, and if you get too much of it on your feet or in your lungs you end up with bad diseases. Since Wildcats tend to be healthier than people stuck in tar Wildcats win. Since I live in North Carolina and don’t even know where Villanova is, I wish this was not the case, but working in healthcare settings for many years means that I have to go with science and Villanova wins to go to the Sweet Sixteen.

The VCU Rams play the Akron Zips and since Zip is the mascot of the US Postal Service Zip Code and the Postal Service is in trouble one has to go with VCU. VCU wins. The Michigan Wolverines, named after the Marvel Comics super hero play the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Sorry Wolverine has those nasty knife like claws and that will carve up a Jackrabbit any day of the week. Michigan wins. Likewise I don’t think I don’t think that the Wolverines can lose to Rams and will make Mutton of them. Michigan to the Sweet Sixteen.

The UCLA Bruins play the Minnesota Golden Gophers and anyone with any sense knows that a Gopher will do anything to avoid a bear and thus UCLA Wins. The Florida Gators play the Northwestern State Demons. Now we all know that Demons are pretty badass beings, but these are not Demons from a major conference thus kind of minor Demons. Gators live in the water and anyone that knows their Bible knows what happens when Demons get in the water, they lose. Jesus showed us that when he chased those pigs into a lake. Florida wins but when they have to battle the Bruins, who can fight in land and water the lose. UCLA to the Sweet Sixteen.

The San Diego State Aztecs play the Oklahoma Sooners, and sooner rather than later we all know that the Aztecs will carve up the Sooners. The Georgetown Hoyas, the basketball team of a Jesuit school, which are named after a Latin Term Hoya Saxa, which means “What rocks” play the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. Anyone knows that no Jesuit is killed by an Eagle, Jesuits are much more crafty than that and Jesuits throwing rocks, they are dangerous. Georgetown wins. However, the Hoya’s have to face the Aztecs and the Aztecs have been waiting for revenge ever since Cortez came knocking at the Halls of Montezuma. San Diego State to the Sweet Sixteen.

In the Southern Region Sweet Sixteen the Villanova Wildcats mix it up with the Wolverines and despite the claws I think by now that the Wolverines are tired and the Wildcats win. The UCLA Bruins, because they are cool Southern California type Bruins with no love for San Diego beat the Aztecs who really don’t have anything against the Bruins because they like nature. However the Bruins finally lose when they face the Villanova Wildcats. Wildcats do better on the high plains of North Texas than large bears and so they have the advantage and thus Villanova goes to the Final Four.

The East Regional

In the East Regional the number one seeded Indiana Hoosiers face the JMU Dukes. Now no one knows what a Hoosier is, which makes them hard to define and the Dukes are named after minor nobility, totally out of place in the United States. Hoosiers win. The North Carolina State Wolfpack plays the Temple Owls. Now I give you the fact that Owls are great hunters, but they are night hunters and this game is being played in the afternoon, giving the Wolfpack the advantage. Yes wolves like the night too, but they do well in the day too. NC State wins.

The UNLV Running Rebels of the Vegas strip play the California Bears. In this case I give the Rebels the edge, these are Berkley Bears and far too mellow for this kind of fight, and anyone knows that the Rebels that moved to Vegas after the great War Between the States are much more crafty than other Rebels. UNLV wins. The Syracuse Orangemen who I am reliably informed are named after Speaker of the House John Boehner play the Montana Grizzlies, yet another Bear, but Boehner, the Orangeman himself controls the budget and Montana Grizzlies tend to live on National Parks, and if there is no funding these bears die. Syracuse wins.

The Butler Bulldogs will play the Bucknell Bison. This was a hard pick, but dogs are used to herd Bison, I think anyway and if that is true then the Bulldogs of Butler have to win. The Davidson Wildcats play the Marquette Golden Eagles and cats eat birds, even highly seeded birds. The Wildcats then move on to defeat the Bulldogs.

Finally the Illinois Fighting Illini play the Colorado Buffaloes. History is the key in this. You always see the Indians hunting down Buffalo and not the other way around. Illinois wins. But the big surprise is the University of the Pacific Tigers defeating the Miami Hurricanes. Now one might ask how that could be, but Tigers don’t live in Hurricane zones and thus are safe. Pacific wins. However, the Illini are pretty good hunters and will kill off the Tigers to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

In East Region Sweet Sixteen match ups the Hoosiers of Indiana defeat the Running Rebels of UNLV because even Rebels on the Vegas Strip have a hard time figuring out what a Hoosier is and how to defeat it. Illinois moves on to defeat Davidson, once again using their superior hunting skills, but the Fighting Illini meet their match when the run up against the Hoosiers, who like everyone else they have no idea how to defeat because they don’t know what they are. This sends the Indian Hoosiers to the Final Four.

The Final Four

In the Final Four the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame come up against the Devil in the form of the Duke Blue Devils and even drunken Fighting Irishmen don’t beat the Devil. Indiana will defeat Villanova because like everyone else even Wildcats don’t know what a Hoosier is, but the Devil does and this means that the Duke Blue Devils are my Mascot Pick for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Is this a logical way to pick a bracket? Not at all, but I bet that it works pretty well.

Have fun with your brackets.

Peace

 

Padre Steve+

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