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A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations: Reflections on the Ignorance and Incompetence of the President and his Enablers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Our President is a businessman, a man who claims all sorts of achievements but never owns up to his repeated failures, whether they be business, moral, personal, or now his often demonstrated gross incompetence as President.

We have long known that the President both narcissistic and paranoid character traits. Anyone who has observed his antics over the years has seen them displayed time and time again; but he has covered those character flaws with his self-promotion of his business acumen and superior leadership that make him the ultimate deal-maker, and he did such a great job of marketing that myth that many people actually believed it to be true. This certainly was a factor in his election.

As a businessman at the helm of his family owned empire it was easy for him to promote the myth, but now he is attempting to run the government of the most powerful nation on earth as if it were that business, rules seemingly do not apply to him, he behaves as if he is above the law, and many of his followers treat him as if he is the law. Trump and his followers are acting out the Fuhrer Prinzip or leader principle of Adolf Hitler before our eyes and people who should know better are allowing it to happen.

Rudolf Hess said of Hitler something I have heard repeated by Trump propagandists and Evangelical preachers who support Trump: “Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler. Whatever he does is necessary. Whatever he does is successful. Clearly the Führer has divine blessing.” I have lost count of the number of times I have seen and heard people say similar things about the President. Even members of Republican Congressional leaders seem willing to surrender their branch to the whim of the Trump’s executive, as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said just a week ago that Congress “serves at the pleasure of the President.”  I’m sorry but the Congress is not the Reichstag of 1933 but rather a co-equal branch of government as founders in their wisdom made it in the Constitution. But many other Republicans in Congress, in statehouses, in the right wing propaganda machine and on the street seem willing to concede Hess’s understanding of Hitler’s rule to Trump. What Trump does is necessary, it is right, and for many of his Evangelical Christian followers it has the blessing of God.

And Trump himself approves of this adulation, and he believes it; in fact he revels in it with every tweet and every interview that he gives. There is nothing that he does in his mind that is not the best, the greatest, or whatever superlative he decides to attach to his action of the moment. He had no capacity of reflection, no tolerance for dissent, and no ability to even receive constructive criticism from his advisers. He demonstrates that he is incompetent when it comes to governance, that he is ignorant of the Constitution, of history, and of policy; and he is too arrogant and ignorant to recognize this fact. The latest exposure of classified information to the Russians, intelligence which reportedly came from Israel regarding the Islamic State, shows how reckless and incompetent that he is. It may not have been illegal, but it certainly wasn’t smart, and the act probably violated his Oath of Office. I honestly don’t think that he set out to do that but he has no impulse control, he needs to show that he is important, and he needs to show off that importance by bragging about what he knows, and now that he has done it and has been exposed he rushes to justify the action and send out his aides to defend it because he cannot be wrong, the Fuhrer must always be right. Those who do his bidding will one day find out like members of the German military, civil service, police, and even the SS that ultimately that their loyalty to the Fuhrer cannot and will not be repaid, and that their reputation and honor will forever be soiled.

Back in August 50 Republican National Security experts wrote this public letter to express their concern about the President.

In our experience, a President must be willing to listen to his advisers and department heads; must encourage consideration of conflicting views; and must acknowledge errors and learn from them. A President must be disciplined, control emotions, and act only after reflection and careful deliberation. A President must maintain cordial relationships with leaders of countries of different backgrounds and must have their respect and trust. In our judgment, Mr. Trump has none of these critical qualities. He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The President has so deceived himself over the course of his life that he honestly believes that he understands everything better than anyone while failing to recognize his own limitations. As “Dirty Harry Callahan” once said, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” Our President neither knows his nor cares, and will continue to do so until his incompetence destroys him or possibly our nation as well.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Blatant Power Grab of Trump the Authoritarian

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The meaning of President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is rapidly becoming apparent to all but the most ideologically blinded Trump partisan. In response to a growing investigation by the FBI that he could not control, the President opted to go nuclear in a sense by removing Comey who coincidently had just days before requested more money in order to expand the investigation of Russian interference in the American elections and by necessity investigate all the members of Trump’s inner circle with Moscow connections. The idea that Comey’s investigation was closing in on Trump and his inner circle ands that Comey, despite undermining the campaign of Hillary Clinton had no personal loyalty to Trump sent shivers through the spine of Trump and his aides and caused Trump to rage against Comey in the days leading up to the firing.

Trump’s ham-fisted attempt to play this off as his response to reports from the Justice Department have already been proven to be lies. But Trump does not seem to really care. He knows that he never had a mandate from a majority of the American people and that his popularity is the lowest of any president at this point in their administration. Instead of trying to do the things that would help him gain a mandate and the approval of the voters he is moving into the realm of the authoritarian who must seize the instruments of state power, especially national policing agencies like the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Department Homeland Security by removing potential adversaries in them and filling them with loyalists. But Rump does not care how bad this looks, because he does not care. Russian chess master and dissident Gary Kasparov noted yesterday:

As if to emphasize how little he cares about optics, Trump followed up the Comey firing by meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at the White House the very next day. American media was blocked from attending, but Russian photographers were there to capture the three men’s beaming smiles. Trump looked in his element, no doubt boasting about flexing his power the way Putin might.

I’m sure they have much else to talk about. Trump would love to turn the FBI into a personal security and intelligence force to use against his enemies, the way Putin uses the FSB in Russia and abroad.

The good thing is that Trump has the attention span of a gnat and the intellectual curiously of a sloth when it comes to understanding and working within the Constitutional system of the United States. This has meant that he has left many presidentially appointed positions throughout the Federal Government unfilled. Call it laziness or incompetence, it does not help him and hopefully will undermine his efforts to wrest even more power in order to protect and enrich himself and his allies.

Even so, for an authoritarian the most important agencies to control are those which control law enforcement, not even the military, for the military is of little use in domestic politics, but police agencies are of great value. This is why Hitler focused his efforts on controlling the state security apparatus of the Interior Ministry, the Prussian Interior Ministry, and the Police, especially the Secret Police when he took power. It is the same reason that Stalin relied of the predecessor of the KGB, the NKVD as the instrument of his Communist Party and military purges, his campaigns of starvation in the Ukraine and Belarus, and ethnic cleansing throughout the various Soviets.

For a paranoid authoritarian leader who views any opposition as a potential threat and any opponent an enemy, the instruments of state security are the most important. To do this he, like all authoritarians must cultivate chaos and present themselves as the only solution to maintain order emphasizing the supposedly exceptional nature of the times. This is seen in the President’s flood of executive orders in which he tells Federal agencies exactly what laws he wants enforced and those that he does not.

We have not seen the end of President Trump’s attempts to gain more power though extraordinary means and to eliminate opposition to his policies within the government. As he feels more threatened expect this trend to accelerate. If he cannot get what he wants expect him to leave a path of destruction in his wake, that is the way of the authoritarian. Our watchword must be vigilance, and those who occupy positions within the bureaucracy must uphold their duties to the Constitution and the country over their political affiliation, and this is doubly true for the Republican members of Congress who will either roll over and surrender their constitutional obligations to allow Trump more power, or must stand on principle for the Constitution if the Republic is to survive. Many people are afraid and adopting the cynicism and attitude of inevitability necessary for Trump the authoritarian to succeed. Timothy Snyder righty noted:

For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions. Courage does not mean not fearing, or not grieving. It does mean recognizing and resisting terror management right away, from the moment of the attack, precisely when it seems most difficult to do so.”

Those serving in the military during times like these also need to remember and heed the words of General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office rather than to lead an attack on Czechoslovakia, and who would die in the attempt to overthrow Hitler in 1944:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

Likewise Congress and law enforcement must investigate because it is their duty under the Constitution. Kasparov noted: 

If the rule of law and the separation of powers are to mean anything in the U.S., an independent investigation into Trump’s Russia ties and his finances is more critical now than ever. It won’t be easy, but it’s only going to get harder. Trump will keep finding new ways to accrue power — and he won’t care at all how bad it looks:

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Politics of National Destruction 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I’m on my way back home from Houston today, a very early flight so I wrote this last night in my hotel room. Yesterday I wrote about how many people since the beginnings of totalitarian mass movements in the 20th Century are easily led by demagogues and manipulated by propaganda, so much so that they will deny objective truth and facts to believe the lie, and defend the lies. 

We are at a dangerous point in history. Much of the western world is in the midst of a political crisis the likes have not been seen with the collapse of the old order after the First World War. It is a time made for demagogues, right and left wing ideologues, and others intent on overthrowing the existing order. President Trump’s advisor Steven Bannon is typical in his view. Far from being a traditional conservative, or populist, Brannon told Ronald Radosh in 2013 that he was a Leninist. Radish was shocked and asked him what he meant, to which Bannon replied: “Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  When Radosh questioned Bannon about the criticism of Tea Party tactics of government shutdown by conservative commentator Thomas Sowell in National Review Online, Bannon told Radosh, “National Review and The Weekly Standard are both left-wing magazines, and I want to destroy them also.” 

President Trump has announced his intentions to destroy what he calls “the administrative state” while at the same time increasing police powers at all levels of government by reducing judicial and administrative oversight of police agencies. If one looks at history this is very similar to policies used in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, where in both cases police organizations became the most powerful agencies in their respective states. The result was that the state was able to use police power as an instrument of terror against their own citizens as well as in nations that they occupied. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism: 

“To Stalin constant growth and development of police cadres were incomparably more important than the oil in Baku, the coal and ore in the Urals, the granaries in the Ukraine, or the potential treasures of Siberia—in short the development of Russia’s full power arsenal. The same mentality led Hitler to sacrifice all Germany to the cadres of the SS; he did not consider the war lost when German cities lay in rubble and industrial capacity was destroyed, but only when he learned that the SS troops were no longer reliable.” 

While Trump does not, at least yet, to enjoy the power of a State controlled by a single party with unlimited power to control the police and to fully limit the judiciary; his words and the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to this point indicate that that is the end state that they desire. This is only possible by destroying the power of the institutions of the constitutional state, and then by co-opting the structure of the state to fulfill the will of their ideological ends. 

At present this is not yet fully possible, but the potential of a Reichstag Fire incident to use to take over the full powers of the state through emergency decrees cannot be discounted when the stated goal is to destroy the state. One cannot give short shrift to President Trump’s statements on the campaign trail, nor his unending stream of tweet storms when estimating what he is capable of doing if given the chance. For my friends who doubt Trump’s competence to govern, it is not about competence, but rather the ruthlessness that he would be willing to employ to achieve his ends. Those who simply excuse his more extreme statements, his deliberate untruths, as hyperbole and his lack of loyalty to trusted advisers, and his willingness to shred the leaders of the party when he leads them to legislative defeat as normal political actions are sadly mistaken. If there is a crisis, one actually committed by an external enemy, or a false flag incident, this President will use his power to take control. Our President has routinely praised the actions anti-democratic dictators As Timothy Snyder wrote: “For tyrants, the lesson of the Reichstag fire is that one moment of shock enables an eternity of submission. For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions.”

For those people who I talked about yesterday who are willing to excuse the outright falsehoods of the President, this is not an issue. The fact is that for many of them they have been waiting for the chance to take vengeance on those who they perceive as their enemies, both real and imagined. That is why the Christian Right overwhelmingly supported Trump more than they have any previous Republican candidate for President. 

These are dangerous times. Our constitutional system is not nearly as resilient as we assume that it is in such a crisis. We cannot forget that shortly after Franklin Roosevelt became President that some on the political Right attempted to get retired Marine Corps General Smedley Butler to lead a coup against the President. Butler would have nothing of it and revealed their plot. But how many others would be willing to defend the institutions of a State that they wish to destroy? The Generals of the German Reichswehr rolled over to support Hitler to overthrow the hated Weimar Republic, just as conservative French politicians, industrialists, and military leaders were willing to allow Hitler to defeat France in 1940 in order to destroy the Third Republic. 

The words and actions of the President and his advisers concerning the American political system be discounted when estimating what they are capable of doing. Their apparent collusion with Putin’s a Russia before and after the campaign is being revealed more and more each day. If they did in fact collude with the Russians that is called treason. There is no other word for it, and no matter how wide and deep this is it seams to be of no importance to Trump’s followers, especially those of the supposedly Christian Right. They are willing to excuse it so long as it serves their political need for revenge against those they believe to be their political, ideological, and religious enemies. As 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.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under ethics, History, laws and legislation, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Groundhog Day and Nazi Comparisons

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was Groundhog day and Punxsutawney Phil has promised us another six weeks of winter. Since is was sixty degrees today with partly cloudy skies and light winds, I say let it continue. But that’s not really really what I’m writing about today, though historically it seems that we are in an era that seems like the movie Groundhog Day, except we aren’t repeating yesterday every day, but we are seeing history unfold in a similar way to an era that we would rather consign to to musty history books about the Third Reich.

Today, two friends shared an article of a blogger condemning those who are comparing the actions of President Trump to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He started his article “I’m no expert but…” and then went on to minimize what people are saying about Trump, comparing them to others on the right and left who have made comparisons of their political opponents with Hitler. I agree that there are people, plenty of them on the right and left who have compared their political opponents to Hitler, and if Donald Trump was a normal president I would say that such comparisons would be unfounded, but in my humble opinion, they are not.

I am a historian, as one of my colleagues told me yesterday, a “historian masquerading as a chaplain, and that’s not a bad thing.” My chief area of study in my undergraduate days was in German history, particularly the period of the end of Imperial Germany, the German civil war, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi era. The same was true with my second master’s degree in Military History, and much of my church history studies in seminary. I have written on a number of aspects of the subject, it is included in the Military Ethics class that I teach, and I would dare say that I am an expert in the subject and that I do not make comparisons to the Nazi era, or its leaders, to American political leaders lightly.

In fact, until the rise of Donald Trump, I have never had cause to compare the words, methods, or actions of any American President or serious presidential candidate to the Nazis. Any such comparisons, even to Richard Nixon, would be to unfounded hyperbole and ludicrous. I do know that there are people on the political left and right who have compared their political opponents to the Nazis or even Adolf Hitler himself, and as a serious historian I find their accusations to demean the historical importance of the period, especially in view of the great evil of the Nazis, especially in regard to the Holocaust.

Likewise when I see someone write a lengthy blog about these comparisons and begin it with “I’m not an expert but…” I am offended because it demeans the work of serious people, real experts, and equates them with ignorance. The man cited many of the differences between Germany of 1933 and the United States of 2016. There are differences, significant differences, but they do not disqualify comparisons between the periods, or between Herr Hitler and Mr. Trump. Those comparisons are in matters of substance, psychology, language, sociological, and political trends.

In 2001 the United States, which had just gone a divisive election which was decided in the Supreme Court was attacked. The shock to the country was immense, the attack was followed by prolonged wars and a massive economic crisis followed by the election of a President who was African American, an event which brought out some of the worst and most open racism I have ever seen in my life. In 1918, Germany lost a war, had its system of government fall, and was enveloped in a civil war punctuated with being saddled with the full blame for the war that they lost, and were ruled not by the Kaiser, not by conservatives, or nationalists, but by Socialists, something that many could not abide. As such, the Socialists were saddled with the blame for a war started by nationalists, and the myth of the Stab in the Back was used to explain the defeat of the German armies.

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The Stab in the Back

In both situations, the politics of the countries became exceptionally divisive, and over time the political center began to dissolve. In both instances, populist movements of the right and left stamped out the center, compromise was off the table. In both 1933 and 2016, the politician who took power represented a minority of the electorate, and neither had ever held any elected office. They were both demagogues who found convenient internal racial and religious scapegoats, and foreign powers to blame for the woes of the country. Neither Trump, nor Hitler was ever given a chance of gaining power, until they achieved it.

Both took advantage of the struggles of people who had not done well during the economic downturns, played on longstanding prejudices, exploited the weakness of the major political parties, coopted the fears of religious people who felt that they were not being considered. They were also supported by people of means, who were quite well off and willing to take their chances with a leader who could deliver people who would otherwise reject them. The similarities, while not exact go on and on.

But even more, when it comes down to the person of President Trump, honestly he cannot be compared to Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler was much more subtle and much more clever, although both were narcissists, both had no real friends and treated people as commodities, both demonstrated a need to be loved, and fear of rejection, as well as a compulsive need to demean, degrade, and bully any opponents, but Trump is but a cheap copy of Hitler.

It is interesting that the President’s first wife, who by the way supported his run for president, said that Trump kept copies of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s speeches by his bedside. During his campaign he frequently praised dictators and even quoted Mussolini in a tweet. His repeated use of the term “America First” is a throwback to an American movement that supported Hitler and his aggression in Europe up until Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States a few days later. If you look at the structure of his speeches during the campaign, they are laden with phrases used by the German dictator, and their structure is similar, albeit without Hitler’s mesmerizing prose. I have seen him speak in person, and watched the anger that he incites in his followers. I watched his inauguration speech several times, and read it again and again and I was struck by the similarity in tenor to many of Hitler’s speeches. If I was not so well acquainted with Hitler’s speeches, and his books, I would never dare to make the comparisons, it would not only be unwise, but also terribly wrong to make such a comparison based on a personal or ideological dislike, based on raw emotion and ignorance of the subject.

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He has surrounded himself with advisors who openly support fascist methods, and use propaganda techniques which mimic Hitler and his propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels. Like Hitler, once in power President Trump has used his office to demonize his opponents and rule by executive decree, effectively marginalizing the legislature and to defy and eviscerate the courts. In one important difference since Trump took power of a superpower, he did not have to wait years like Hitler in order to build up a military to threaten his neighbors and defy international institutions.

I could go on and on, but if there was any other historical comparison that I could use instead of the Nazi comparison, I would. But let me qualify that statement. Trump is not Hitler and he has not at least yet, acted on his most radical statements concerning deportations of millions of people, discrimination based on race or religion, banning all opposition, and curtailing freedom of speech, although he and his advisors constantly threaten the press and anyone who voices the slightest opposition to them, including simply pointing out their repeated lies. Nor has he embarked on any new wars, though his words and the words of Steve Bannon, his closest advisor, threaten war with China, Iran, Mexico, and are destroying the bonds that we have with our longest and closest allies.  On the National Security Council the President has sidelined his military chiefs and replaced them with the ideologue Bannon. The sad thing about the last part was this was exactly how Hitler treated his military chiefs. They were called in to carry out orders, not to give sane advice, and he undercut them whenever he needed. In both cases many of their followers tolerated no criticism of their leader, often resorting to threats of violence or actual physical violence to suppress their opponents. In both cases their leaders not only tolerated such behavior, but encouraged it.

Hitler is dead, his Reich defeated, but his ideas are still around and can be seen in the current right-wing nationalist movements masquerading as populists in Europe and the United States. What happened in Germany in the 1930s  can happen again. Thus it is better to sound an early warning using facts and reason to hopefully ensure that it doesn’t happen. Such warnings should not be taken for granted, too many people and political leaders, not only in Germany, but around the world, took Hitler for granted believing that he could be controlled and that his radical ideas were hyperbole and would never be acted on. They were wrong. As a result the world, and Germany itself paid a massive price in human life for ignoring the danger until it was too late.

Again I don’t make such comparisons lightly, and in a relatively short article like this I cannot go into the detail with all the citations, though I have the material at hand to do so, I haven’t the time to write a book about it, though I’m sure that I could. I have three books that I am currently working on, all dealing with the American Civil War, one of which is getting to the point that I am trying hard to complete it and get it to a publisher in the next month or two, so I really don’t want to start another book. But I think that this weekend I will provide my readers a list of references on the Third Reich as well as totalitarianism, that if read critically, and thoughtfully, would be of great help to understanding our own time.

If you want you can look at some of my articles on this site dealing with mass movements, and totalitarianism, especially those that are based on the writings of Eric Hoffer or Hannah Arendt. They are helpful to understanding the political, ideological, and emotional aspects of how people like Hitler and Trump gain power, and why people are willing to through out reason, logic, ethics, and even faith, to support them.

So anyway, until the weekend, have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

P.S. I did watch the movie Groundhog Day last night. It is one of my traditions.

 

 

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Where the Distinction Between Fact and Fiction, True and False, No Longer Exists

hannah-arendt

Hannah Arendt 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about presidential spokesperson Kellyanne Conway who defended a number of outright lies posited by Press Secretary Sean Spicer as alternative truth. The statement was astounding and was met with much criticism and ridicule, but it reflects an attitude that of cynicism that has swept our nation that facts as they are, are unimportant, that truth itself is malleable.

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”

The world that most of us grew up with is changing before our eyes and it is happening around the world and it is hard to say what is going to happen. I started re-reading Hannah Arendt’s book last night. It was one of my texts as an undergraduate when studying Hitler’s Germany. The book deals with both Naziism and Stalinism which makes it in some sense like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. While the latter focuses more on how Hitler and Stalin used their power on their own people as well as the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Belorussians, and others who happened to find themselves swallowed up by the two totalitarian states; Arendt’s book more at the underlying social conditions. In a time when populist politicians around the world are speaking in the the language of authoritarians, and promising to deliver their people from various political, racial, and religious enemies, it is important to remember where such talk almost always ends, totalitarian states.

But the fact is based on numerous polls in this country and around the world going back two decades show a rise in people of all ages and ideologies who are willing to accept authoritarian government and to abandon democracy. Well before President Trump ever announced his run for the presidency in 2015 the stage was set for an authoritarian leader to arise in the United States just as many are doing in Europe. Whether President Trump actually ends up ruling as an authoritarian is not yet clear, but the signs keep pointing that he may be heading in that direction, and that his followers will have no problem with it. His inaugural address was marked by his distain for both political parties and the political establishment and linking himself with the people. It was loaded with populism and nationalism, as are the messages of  Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, and others in Europe.

William Shirer wrote of how Adolf Hitler convinced many Germans to follow him. His message was basic populism in which certain groups were responsible for their problems and he promised to fix it. Yes Hitler was anti-semitic and especially blamed the Jews, but most Germans, many who were raised in a culture of anti-Semitism, just ignored that part and followed him because anti-Semitism was normal for them. Shier wrote:

“To all the millions of discontented Hitler in a whirlwind campaign offered what seemed to them, in their misery, some measure of hope. He would make Germany strong again, refuse to pay reparations, repudiate the Versailles Treaty, stamp out corruption, bring the money barons to heel (especially if they were Jews) and see to it that every German had a job and bread.”

So how did we get here? How did we get to the point that a presidential spokesperson can defend lies and refer to them as alternative facts?

I won’t answer that today in fact I want to think about it more, and do more research, but much is based on the constant repetition of simple propaganda messages that are designed to bypass the intellect and appeal to raw passion. I have written about this trend for several years using different historical examples but today I am just going to leave you with one other thing that Arendt wrote:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

 

I will discuss that passage in depth at another time but I think it is good just to let it sink in.

Have a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The World of Alternative Facts and the Danger to the Republic

kellyanne-conway

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We have entered a world that our founders never expected to happen but warned us about. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, that the fiercest enemies of the republic were those men who begin “by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

I think that we have entered that era in our history.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s embarrassing attack on those who disagreed with the President’s claim that the inauguration of President Trump had the highest attendance in history when every analysis of the crowds revealed to be far smaller than the last few inaugurations was defended by President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway. Conway turned absolutely Orwellian to defend that and a number of other claims that were patently false. She called them Alternative Facts.

Sadly, this has been the modus operandi of Mrs. Conway and the President’s spokespeople since the beginning of his campaign. Rather than admit to a falsehood they reinforce the lie, time after time. The behavior is extraordinary in the American experience but not in history.

I hate to bring up a Nazi example but the the tactic is that of the Nazi, the Soviet, and every other authoritarian and dictatorial propaganda machine. But being a historian who has spent much of my life researching and writing about the Nazi seizure of power I was actually taken aback by her comments and the use of the term “alternative facts.” There are no such thing. John Adams, our second President said it well: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclination, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” 

But such clarity cannot be found in what Mr. Spicer or Mrs. Conway said. They repeated a lie and then Mrs. Conway called it an “alternative fact.” It was absolutely Orwellian, not that it matters to many of the President’s diehard supporters. He told us during the campaign: “You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible,” and he was absolutely correct. Hitler told his generals when he was about to stage a propaganda coup to blame Poland for starting the war, “I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war – never believe if it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked afterward if he told the truth…” It seems that from day one of his campaign the President has followed a similar course of action to first win the nomination of his party and then the general election. I don’t think that he can stop now that he is office. In his inaugural address the President noted: “America will start winning again, winning like never before.”  Winning at all costs seems to be everything, and nothing will stand in the way, even facts.

The Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels once said:“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”

Sadly, this will not be the last of these kind of statements made by Mrs. Conway or Mr. Spicer. We have entered a new era, and while many people think that the Trump administration will sink itself, and that maybe the GOP will revolt, impeach him, and make Mike Pence the President, they are deluded. That will not be allowed to happen by Trump or his supporters. The stream of alternative facts are going to become so commonplace that people will stop noticing them, they will get numb to them.

William Shirer who served as a correspondent in Berlin from 1934 to 1941 wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

“I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.”

I am sorry, but when it comes to facts and truth, that is the kind of world we on entered on January 20th. Please note I am not saying that President Trump is a Nazi, or commit Nazi style atrocities. I am simply comparing the methods, and the language of his spokespeople to the Goebbels propaganda machine, and I am also calling to mind the words of our founders on the danger of demagogues.

Honestly, I hope that our President governs wisely and gains a sense of humility as he holds in his hands such great power. I want him to succeed for all of us, but this opening weekend has given me much cause for concern and this has less to do with policy than it does the deceptive words that I see coming from those who shape his message.

I know that is a hell of a way to start the week, but this does matter.

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the Four Freedom’s Speech

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On January 6th 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union Message to Congress and the nation. I spent the time to both both read it and listen to it the other day. It is a profoundly moving speech, not without controversy of course, but one which we need to hear again. It is a speech that like the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s  Gettysburg Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a Dream speech calls us to higher ideals, ideals that we often come up short in living up to, but ideals worth living for and to endeavor to attain in our lifetime.

 

When Roosevelt spoke the nation was in the midst of crisis. The United States was still recovering from the Great Depression. War threatened as Hitler’s Nazi German legions had overrun all of Western Europe and much much of North Africa. German U-Boats and surface ships were prowling the North Atlantic. Britain stood alone between Germany’s complete domination of Europe. Even the Soviet Union, a mortal enemy of Fascism had concluded a concordat with Hitler to divide Eastern Europe. Though no one yet knew it, Hitler was already planning to break his accord with Stalin and invade the Soviet Union.

In it Roosevelt made a comment that we should remember in light of the knowledge that Russia interfered in our election, and has been working tirelessly to split us from our allies and directly working against our efforts to fight ISIS, and the efforts of our soldiers in Afghanistan. He noted:

“I suppose that every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world — assailed either by arms or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord in nations that are still at peace.”

Roosevelt’s speech, which largely focused on the threat of Nazi Germany, also supported Britain and the exiled governments of nations conquered by Hitler.  As he outlined preparations to defend the United States, Roosevelt also called on Congress to pass Lend Lease to help those fighting the dictators, as well as increased opportunity at home. In response to the emerging threats and the unwillingness of some, including a strong pro-Germany lobby headed by prominent senators, American aviation hero Charles Lindberg, and and big business, Roosevelt challenged Americans to face up to them. He noted:

“As a nation we may take pride in the fact that we are soft-hearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed.  We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal preach the “ism” of appeasement.  We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests.”

On the domestic front Roosevelt reiterated the message of the New Deal, for even with war looming he did not want to see Americans lost in the exchange and he linked freedom abroad to the same at home. He noted:

“As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone. Those who man our defenses and those behind them who build our defenses must have the stamina and the courage which come from unshakable belief in the manner of life which they are defending. The mighty action that we are calling for cannot be based on a disregard of all the things worth fighting for.”

He continued:

“Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment — The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.”

But the real heart of the message, applicable to all people everywhere Roosevelt enunciated a number of principles that are a beacon to all people. Firmly grounded in words of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address they are called the Four Freedoms. Those freedoms are an ideal, in fact they certainly were not practiced well then by Americans, nor now, but they are worth working to: Roosevelt said:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

The speech was important, and now as it did then it calls Americans to higher purposes, to higher ideals, and it recognizes that we have never fully measured up to our own words. At the time it was spoken, Jim Crow was still the law of the land, Mexican Americans were often treated as poorly as blacks, Native Americans had few rights; and barely a year later Japanese Americans would be taken from the homes, lose their business and be sent to detention camps for the duration of the war after Pearl Harbor, simply because they were of Japanese descent. But those abiding principles are things that we should never lose sight of, and always strive to realize.

Today the four freedoms that Roosevelt enunciated are under threat around the world and in the United States too. We live in an age of uncertainty, turbulence, division, inequity, as well as deeply ingrained cynicism. Unscrupulous authoritarian politicians are using that uncertainty and fear to roll back the very liberties that democratic institutions are founded on.

As a result, as a man who promised during his campaign to roll back the rights of many people it is important not to forget this speech. The same is true as state and local politicians set out to not only roll back the rights of some, but to enable religious people to discriminate against other citizens.

It is also important because the government of Russia led efforts to attack the country by influencing the election, and for years has been committing aggression against American allies and working against American and allied efforts around the world. Yet the the incoming administration is not only welcoming it, but attacking and trying to discredit the American intelligence officials who say that it happened, and condemning senators and congressmen of its own party who want to further investigate those attacks by Russia and impose sanctions.  

So I think that it is important to reflect on these events, and then turn to speeches like Roosevelt’s in order for us to strive for a higher purpose, not to lose hope, and give in to fear that would enable our freedoms and the freedoms of any citizen to be curtailed.

If you can please that the time to listen to it or read it at the following link: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrthefourfreedoms.htm

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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