Tag Archives: Christopher Clark

Brittle Personalities with Yearning for Respect, the Danger Of the Lack Of Character in Leaders: President Trump and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are in the German State Of Hessen visiting German friends that we have known for almost 35 years, after making the trip up from Munich. In our conversations with our German friends who are conservative supporters of Angela Merkel and the CDU, the question of the stability, suitably for office, and the Character of the American President came up, and they are frightened by his actions and wonder how a country like ours could have elected him. That made me revisit the question of the President’s character, or lack thereof, and compare him with other vain, immature, and unstable leaders. Character matters, especially when we elect someone to be President of the United States. President Trump may be a character, but he has none, and that is the most dangerous thing about him.

Theodore Roosevelt noted: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”

As the crises of probable impeachment hearings and potential war in the Middle East, and a growing trade war with Chine swirl around the White House I think that it is important to see the President’s words and actions in light of a number of factors. One of those, as Theodore Roosevelt noted is character. Thus it is important to know how the character other leaders at other times influenced how they treated people, reacted to criticism, and led their nations.

In the American experience one is hard pressed to find a President with a similar temperament and character that corresponds to Donald Trump. Yes, Nixon had some similarities, Andrew Jackson as well, but both men even at their worst did, at least in public restrain themselves, and Nixon, when confronted with the reality of certain impeachment did the country a favor by resigning. James Buchanan, whose pro-slavery positions helped ignite the American Civil War, and Andrew Johnson, whose anti-Reconstruction policies and actions led to his impeachment, which fell short of conviction by one vote in the Senate, were as corrupt and cruel as Trump, but neither rose to Trump’s level of contempt for our institutions and Constitution.

But that was a different time. There were leaders in the Republican Party who chose to honor the Constitution and their oaths over blind party loyalty or their determination to pass a certain legislative act. Their resistance to President Nixon was instrumental in his resignation in 1974, especially that of conservative icon Barry Goldwater.

But there seem to be few current members of the GOP congressional delegations willing to stand either for fear of the Trump base, or blind determination to press on with tax cuts even if it means the sacrifice of the Constitution, nuclear war, or their own integrity. It seems that Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse are now beginning to show some backbone, but most of the Republican Senate still seems willing; even after the revelations of what appears to be the President using his office to influence the President of the Ukraine to help undermine the campaign of one of his leading Democratic Party rivals, Vice President Joe Biden.

Of course no amount of the President’s lies and corruption have yet swayed most of his supporters, so I don’t think, unless individual Republican Senators decide that their political survival depends on abandoning Trump, that the GOP will do anything. His base remains solid, and armed members of private “militias” are begging the President to call them into action to eliminate his political enemies and members of the press who press his administration for the truth. I actually saw one of the videos a couple of days ago. Basically such people and their organizations are lawless gangs, despite their words, and they include active and former members of the military. They, are willing to kill for Trump, especially those who believe that he was chosen by God to be President, but I digress, Trump is not Hitler, and his thugs are minor leaguers compared to the SA and the SS.

But I do think that there is a leader who in temperament was much like President Trump, who ended up helping to lead his nation and the world to the abyss of World War. That is not Adolf Hitler who many people often compare the President. I think that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his reliance on his radicalized base, including armed mobs in the street, and hyper-partisan allies in the right wing media, especially Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp which serves as his de-facto state media are similar, but they do not speak to the President’s unstable, narcissistic, and paranoid behaviors. I think that the better comparison is to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with whom the President seems to share many similarities.

In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark wrote of Wilhelm in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the President.

“It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.

‘I am the sole master of German policy,’ he remarked in a letter to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), ‘and my country must follow me wherever I go”

“Wilhelm frequently –especially in the early years of his reign –bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with the prevailing policy.

“It was in this last area –the unauthorized exposition of unsanctioned political views –that the Kaiser achieved the most hostile notice, both from contemporaries and from historians. There can be no doubt about the bizarre tone and content of many of the Kaiser’s personal communications in telegrams, letters, marginal comments, conversations, interviews and speeches on foreign and domestic political themes. Their exceptional volume alone is remarkable: the Kaiser spoke, wrote, telegraphed, scribbled and ranted more or less continuously during the thirty years of his reign, and a huge portion of these articulations was recorded and preserved for posterity…”

Max Hastings wrote that Wilhelm “was a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.” Sean McMeekin in his book July 1914 wrote that Wilhelm had an “insecurity complex, a need for constant attention and acclaim. As one of his many critics put it, the kaiser needed to be “the stag at every hunt, the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” He also noted “Eager for praise, taking offense at the merest slight, the kaiser was a difficult man to work for. Bismarck had disdained to gratify Wilhelm II’s fragile ego after he became emperor in 1888, which led to his sacking two years later.”

Like President Trump the Kaiser did experience some push back from different governmental ministers, and was somewhat restrained during the month leading up to the war, but his constant belligerence, instability, and unscripted remarks helped set the diplomatic and governmental crisis that led to the war. Of course this was not his fault alone, the Austrian-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, French, and British all had a hand, but the Kaiser, through his words and actions during the three decades preceding the war bears much responsibility for what happened in 1914. If the Kaiser had had a Twitter account he would have certainly used it in a similar manner to President Trump.

But Germany had no checks and balances to restrain Wilhelm. He was an absolute monarch. Americans do still have institutional checks and balances to Presidential overreach or abuses should we choose to follow the Constitution, but for that to happen the leadership of the Republican Party must also act, as did their predecessors during the Nixon administration to put principle or party, and rule of law over blind obedience. This is not about partisanship; it is about the Constitution, our form of government, and yes, even the prevention of nuclear war.

Character and temperament are very important in times of crisis and elevated tensions. Character is also fate. We should all tremble when we think of the lack of character and maturity shown by our President.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, leadership, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Are We Sleepwalking into 2018?

North-Korea-Kim-Jong-un-nuclear-Starfish-800967

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late great Yogi Berra once said “Déjà vu all over again, and as I wrap up the year and reflect on a number of things, I keep thinking about how much history can teach us about our own time, should we just pay attention to it. I have been continuing to do research and work on my future book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era” as well as my Gettysburg and Civil War text, and that continues to lead me to pure gold in the pursuit for truth, historical truth that is as relevant today as it was when it happened over a century and a half ago. Likewise I have increased my study of totalitarian leaders and movements as well as the military, political, social, and economic effects of entering into unadvised, aggressive wars.

The former, that is studying and writing about the Civil War era is something that I have been doing for a few years, but the latter: the study of authoritarian leaders and of ill advised wars of aggression is something that I have renewed beginning in 2016 with the emergence of Donald Trump, his followers, and the rapid decline of the Republican Party as anything other than a shill for the extremely wealthy and a convenient cover for white nationalists and other assorted enemies of the American Constitution and ideals forged over a period of more than two centuries of conflict and compromise, as well as assorted attempts to help the country meet those ideals in order to form “a more perfect Union.”

Sadly, the same issues that dominated America in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s and later following Reconstruction still dominate so much of our social, political and religious debate. Whether it is the voting franchise which many on the political right seek to restrict, the rights of women, blacks and other minorities, immigrants and the LGBT community, to any semblance of political, economic equality or social justice very little has changed. Not only that there are some political, media and religious leaders who argue for the unabashed imperialism of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism.

As it was then, much of this can be laid squarely at the feet of Evangelical Protestant and other conservative Christian leaders. A century and a half ago men who claimed to be Christian leaders led the efforts to support slavery, discriminate against women, persecute gays and promote imperialistic policies that would have embarrassed the founders of the United States. After the defeat of the Confederacy most of the same people used the same theology to disenfranchise and discriminate against African Americans through Jim Crow laws, as well as discriminate against minorities, women and gays all the while claiming to be the victims of persecution.

Before the Civil War many Protestant ministers, intellectuals, and theologians, not only Southerners, but men like “Princeton’s venerable theologian Charles B. Hodge – supported the institution of slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously.”  This leaves a troubling question over those who claim to oppose other issues on supposedly Biblical grounds. Conservative Anglican theologian Alistair McGrath asks, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?”

But moving on from the issues of economic inequity, intolerance for minorities, and racism that still permeate there is the very real threat of war. When I speak about war I do not mean the never ending small wars of empire that the United States has been involved with since September 11th 2001, I mean massive, destructive, and bloody wars the likes that have not been seen since the Second World War. Unfortunately the leaders of nations, especially President Trump and Kim Jong Un seem to be a prisoners of their preconceived ideas and are sleepwalking into war, each acting as if the forces of destiny were controlling them and placing, as Christopher Clark wrote in his book about the outbreak of the First World War The Sleepwalkers:

“Here again is the tendency we can discern in the reasoning of so many of the actors in this crisis, to perceive oneself as operating under irresistible external constraints while placing the responsibility for deciding between peace and war firmly on the shoulders of the opponent.” 

As I watch events unfold and comment just how real that I believe the the threat of war is I am often met with disbelief. I really want to be wrong but I don’t think that I am, and the possibility that Trump, Kim Jong Un, or another actor whether intentionally or unintentionally bringing about such a war is all too real, and all of them are too blind to the horror that they will unleash. Clark wrote:

“the protagonists of 1914 were sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.”

The question is will we learn from history or make the same mistakes all over again? That is something to ask ourselves as we leave 2017 behind and enter 2018, a year that promises to be tumultuous and eventful, but which the history of is yet to be written. The That my friends is important, and why all of us must be engaged and not remain silent, there is too much at stake.

As a side note I want to I thank all of those who subscribe to this site, as well as those who follow my writings through Twitter or Facebook. The fact that so many people are doing this humbles me, thank you.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

5 Comments

Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

“Everything Tends Toward Catastrophe and Collapse…” The Trumpian World Order


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On the night of July 28th 1914, as Europe slipped into the embrace of war, Winston Churchill, in one of his less statesmanlike moments wrote his wife: “Everything tends towards catastrophe, & collapse… I am interested, geared-up and happy.”

One hundred and three years ago the nations of Europe were careening towards war, a war that would destroy the old order, devastate the flower of European youth, energize revolutionary movements on the far left and far right, and impact the world up to today. The war which began with the Austrian-Hungarian Empire declaring war on Serbia two days prior would eventually claim 20 million dead and another 21 million wounded. It would be followed by the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, and massive political, geographical, and economic crises which led to the Second World War Two decades after the Treaty of Versailles. 

The outbreak of the war was the result of a complex web of personalities, politics, prejudices, and per-conceived fixed notions, and wrong-headed assumptions by the leaders and the peoples of the nations involved. In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 Christopher Clark wrote:

“Moreover, the complexity of the 1914 crisis arose not from the diffusion of powers and responsibilities across a single politico-financial framework, but from rapid-fire interactions among heavily armed autonomous power-centres confronting different and swiftly changing threats and operating under conditions of high risk and low trust and transparency.” 

As they moved ever closer to calamity many could not believe that disaster was hanging over them as surely as the Sword of Damocles. Barbara Tuchman noted: “One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”

The world that we live in is much like that of August 1914, as Clark describes them. Unklike 1914, when the United States was an emerging power on the periphery of the conflict, the United States is the great power, with a Navy like Britian’s and Army like Imperial Germany’s, but with a leader who does not seem to be able to control himself from his worst instincts. 

I shudder as I watch the regime of President Trump descend into self-inflicted chaos driven by the whims of a narcissistic President who has no capacity for self-reflection, who relishes in humiliating those who are most loyal to him, and who lives in a cloud-cuckoo-land of fact-free paranoid fantasies run amok, at the very point the country’s most dangerous potential adversaries threaten at every corner of the globe and long-standing allies wonder what has happened to the United States. Tuchman described the President, who she never met, in his domestic and foreign policies, when she wrote: 

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.” 

One hundred and three years ago far more able men than this President were making decisions based on their own self-deception and unwillingness to face the facts that we staring them in the face. Believing that victory would be quick and their cause vindicated governments mobilized their fleets and armies, and began to declare war. 

President Trump, who ironically avoid serving in the military believes in military power and surrounds himself in with Generals and military hardware. At the commissioning ceremony of the new aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford he said “When it comes to battle, we don’t want a fair fight. We want just the opposite. We demand victory, and we will have total victory, believe me.” He reflected that belief this week when in tweeting about banning transgender persons from the military he said “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory…” even as he weakens our alliances, praises dictators, and his Secretary of State continues to erode the country’s diplomatic power. It is as if he is determined to find a war in which he will be remembered as a great warlord, like Kaiser Wilhelm II envisioned himself. 

As I observe the actions of our President in relation to our enemies and allies alike and watch their response to him, I am reminded of Tuchman’s description of Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the First World War, “Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.” 

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist but every night I go to bed wondering if early the next morning the President will tweet us into a war. Likewise I wonder what the President will do if Kim Jong Un will fire the missile that brings Armageddon to an American city, or a terrorist group finally succeeds in detonating a weapon of mass destruction on American soil. The latter question is not just how he will respond militarily, but rather how far he will go in curtailing political dissent, free speech, and civil rights. I wonder if the President, to use the words of a less experienced and statesmanlike Churchill is geared up and happy as events tend toward catastrophe and collapse. 

Anyway, for now I’ll do my best to remain hopeful that disaster can be avoided but with every passing day I get more concerned about the future of the country and the world. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary