Friends of Padre Steve’s World
I am modifying an article from last year and updating it to reflect the post-election chaos sowed by President Trump and his cult followers. These alleged “patriots” include Nazis, White Supremacists, anti-Semites and racist murderers, as well as men convicted of working with the Russians in the 2016 election, Christian theocrats, convicted War Criminals, and a host of Un-American and most unsavory haters of the Declaration, Constitution, and the ideals our nation was founded upon. I have no tolerance left for their actions to undermine the country for the last four years but especially in the forty days since the election Trump lost fair and square. The last time a group of people as angry and consumed with hatred of our system of government as these people are was in 1860, and they brought about the bloodiest war in American history, the American Civil War, or as it should be better known, The War of the Slaveholders Rebellion.
Anyone can fret over their presidential candidate losing an election. They also have the right in cases where the results were close to recounts, in some cases mandated by state law, in others requested by the losing party so long as they pay for the cost. In every state where Trump lost and recounts were conducted Trump lost again, sometimes by wider margins than the first time. Trump’s supporters viciously attacked than threatened Republican Governors, Attorneys General, and Elections Officials, even making death threats. They then launched a flurry of frivolous lawsuits with no factual evidence to support their allegations. Of over 60 they only gained one minimal “victory” that did not alter any results in Pennsylvania where it was filed. Finally the Supreme Court unanimously rejected a lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to disenfranchise voters in five states where Trump lost. 17 Red State Attorneys General filed amicus briefs supporting Texas. The Supreme Court’s justices including Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and all three of Trump’s nominees on the bench, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney-Bennett, together with Chief Justice Roberts, and Democrat appointed justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan rejected what Trump called a “very big event.”
Such actions are not the actions of patriots who seek to uphold the Constitution, the Declaration, and the understanding that liberty was ever expanding to include those who at one time in the United who were considered to be less than human and undeserving of equality with White men. Instead they act like Nazis, Klansmen, and every other enemy of freedom who has ever breathed. Their actions are those of a desperate, dangerous, and devilish hoard of enraged losers who cannot admit defeat. They would rather go down in their own Götterdämmerung than understanding that the key to maintaining the ideals of the American experiment are found through progressive ideals and compromise to conserve the best of our past in order that the future will be better.
I was reminded of the importance of why I write after I read conservative columnist Michael Gerson’s article in the Washington Post last year.
“Fascism may not describe what Trump has done, as opposed to what he says. But what he says matters and can create its own dangerous dynamic. It is possible for a leader to be incompetent and still profoundly corrupt the people who follow him, undermining the virtues — tolerance, civility and compromise — that make democratic self-government work. It is possible for a foolish leader to leave the imprint of fascism on a portion of his followers. And the language used by Trump — particularly a certain racially tinged nostalgia and a tribal resentment for the other — strikes me as at a higher level of prominence and acceptance than at any time I can remember. So maybe, rather than fearing a fascist dictator, we should fear the legitimacy of fascist modes of thought in the Republican Party.
This is a more complex danger than most talk of fascism generally suggests. But it is a danger nonetheless.”
Gustave Gilbert, who served as a psychologist to the major Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg noted that in his observation and discussions with them he had to deal with the nature of evil. He had to find the common thread among them that allowed them to take part in the most horrific crimes against humanity conducted by an allegedly civilians, western and Christian country. He noted that in his dealings with them they had one thing in common, they had no empathy for their victims. He said, “evil is the absence of empathy.” The common psychological term for a person who cannot empathize with other people is a sociopath. That is what are President is. It is a trait that he shares with the vilest criminals of the Twentieth Century. Many of his followers seem to share that attribute. You can see it in their words and in their actions from the day he came down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy until this very minute.
Because Trump is what he is, a malignant narcissistic sociopath, I never doubted that he would end up here. But I never expected people who I believed were decent and held to the beliefs of their Christian faith to become vicious, cruel and opponents of life after it leaves the womb to fall in behind him in lockstep, believing every crackpot conspiracy their and joining in with the Nazis in their support of race hatred. For Trump’s crowds to applaud his remarks then and now showed the deep moral rot in the Republican Party. It is troubling because it reflects something far more dangerous which could actually bring about a Fascist type takeover of the U.S. Government.
And one event in particular could quickly heighten that danger. Consider what American politics would look like if Republicans — against all odds and expectations — were to keep the Senate and House. There might be many explanations for such a result — exceptional economic conditions, bad Democratic strategy, the rallying effect of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh among Republicans — but we know how the president would interpret it. He would regard such a victory as the complete vindication — the stamp of national approval — on his entire approach to politics.
All the last remaining opposition in the GOP would melt, and many of his supporters would be calling for retribution against enemies and traitors. The whole leadership of the FBI and Justice Department — anyone who ever displeased him — would be at immediate risk of replacement. Trump would take his victory as permission for even more brutal treatment of migrants. More generally, a leader with no commitment to the separation of powers, with no respect for the traditional self-restraints of the presidency, with savage disdain for the free press, with an admiration for authoritarians, with a history of menacing individuals and companies by name, and with a talent for division and dehumanization would feel unbound.
The boor, the bluffer, the bully would be a political colossus. Then the language of fascism might become less theoretical. Then alarmism would be realism.
Now honestly, at one time I believed that a majority of Trump supporters were themselves evil or even bad people. But that being said I also used to believe that quite a few of them, perhaps a majority of them surrendered to taking the path of least resistance and looking out for what they think are their interests first, even if the result of their decisions hurt people who are much like them. They include people I knew or know, and I struggle to think how they could have crossed this line. But as time has passed I believe that quite a few of the people I used to excuse as being misled and having a better sense of morality and right and wrong do not. They cannot make up their minds as to what is evil and what is good, so long as they personally benefit from the transaction.
As Arendt said, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
That is what we are watching happen before our very eyes. Some might claim ignorance, or claim that they are non-political and are in no position to judge the morality of this President and his administration, but that is the refuge of cowardS. Karl Popper noted “Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind.”
The fact is that today, like in Germany between 1933 and 1945 no one can claim ignorance about the nature and character of President Trump whether they support or oppose him. But if they chose not know Of his malfeasance and evil, it is simply cause they do not want to know, and for those in positions of authority who turn a blind eye, what Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and later armaments minister wrote “…being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences…”
It is a tremendous lack of empathy, an active aversion to truth, intentionally shunning knowledge, and perhaps worse, a refusal to know when in a position to know which allow people to look the other way in the face of evil and injustice.
I cannot do that. Regardless of past relationships I cannot have anything to do with people, friends or not who propagate an American version of the German Dolchstoßlegende, or the myth of the “Stab in the back.” This is the rallying cry of authoritarians, theocrats, and racists who cannot accept their defeat in war or politics, and who will do all they can to avenge their losses at all costs. There is nothing patriotic, Christian, or American about it. It is a treasonous attempt to paint themselves as patriots while leading the nation to catastrophe while blaming others for their incompetence and criminality.
As for me I have to quote a number of Hitler’s opponents who lost their lives either speaking out against his crimes or trying to overthrow his criminal regime.
Sophie Scholl, a 22 year old student at the University of Munich wrote:
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
The German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”
Bonhoeffer also noted in his defense of Hitler’s Jewish victims:
“The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” and also“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office as head of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s decision to invade Czechoslovakia said: “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.”
He also noted: “Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.”
Then there are the words of Major General Henning Von Tresckow who said: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” I would say the same of Trump’s allegedly Christian supporters and defenders. Tresckow also said “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” The same is true today. If we do not reject Trump and his dictatorial, racist, and unconstitutional actions, we will always be Trump’s America.
Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg who planted the bomb intended to kill Hitler and was executed that same night said something that should be asked of every church that overlooks Trump’s personal crimes, sins, and attacks on the nation: “Can the church grant absolution to a murderer who has taken the life of a tyrant?” Theoretically they can, but morally and spiritually they cannot if the claim to be Christian Churches.
in Trump’s final days he and his followers cannot be allowed to damage our Republic more than they already have. After he leaves office they must be accountable for their words and actions against American citizens, The laws and Constitution of the United States, their crimes against humanity, and violations of treaties, that the American Government has abided by for decades. Just because we are Americans and think that we are better than other nations, history shows that we are not.
Supreme Court Robert Jackson said:
“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.
Unfortunately, the United States has failed to live up to our treaty obligations far too often at home in regard to the treaties we made with the people’s of America’s First Nations, now through genocide and forced relocation to reservations on inhospitable and desolate lands to allow for the expansion of White American and our Manifest Destiny, and abroad where Mark Twain wrote during our war against Filipino patriots who had help us defeat Spain: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .”
Having served my country for over 39 years in the military I can only say that I love her enough to be honest and admit our failings without being disloyal. That actually is a definition of true patriotism. Fake patriotism embraces myth ERs and allows tyranny to subvert our democratic institutions, Constitution, and the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, the Four Freedoms, and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream,” “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and “I have been to the Mountain” speech.
So anyway, until tomorrow, which might be Monday because I need to write my retirement address that I will give on Monday.