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The President Who Poisons All He Touches: Donald Trump, the First American Dictator


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a bit over three and a half years since President Trump took the oath of office as President of the United States. Over that time his actions have been similar to other leaders of history who have gravitated towards authoritarian rule, and his Party has only emboldened him. Former GOP House Majority Leader John Boehner noted on October 26th of last year: “There is no Republican Party, only the Party of Trump.”

Today I want to share the words of British military theorist and historian B.H. Liddell-Hart and some others of note as to what happens when authoritarian, or authoritarian leaders gain control of a government. His Liddell-Hart’s words, from his short, but profound book Why Don’t We Learn from History are worth the considered read for anyone with an open mind who can, despite the proliferation of propaganda can still see clearly. Liddell-Hart wrote:

They soon begin to rid themselves of their chief helpers, “discovering” that those who brought about the new order have suddenly become traitors to it. Now think of his early supporters who he has ditched, thrown under the bus, or fired them from his cabinet.

They suppress criticism on one pretext or another and punish anyone who mentions facts which, however true, are unfavourable to their policy. Whether it be Russia, COVID19, the Post Office, his deals with Kim Jun Un, and what has happened to every member of his staff, the GOP establishment, or member of Congress who has openly criticized him, including senior Justice Department, State Department, National Security Council Staff, the Military, the Judiciary, and on and on and on.

They enlist religion on their side, if possible, or, if its leaders are not compliant, foster a new kind of religion subservient to their ends. Trump would not be in power without his willful collaborators of the Christian Right who for all intents and purposes have become his Cult.

They spend public money lavishly on material works of a striking kind, in compensation for the freedom of spirit and thought of which they have robbed the public. The President has constructed nothing truly lavish, or of any cultural value, but he has built portions of a very expensive and ineffective border wall.

They manipulate the currency to make the economic position of the state appear better than it is in reality. He first did this with his tax overhaul of 2017 which improved the stock markets, and since the malfeasance of the Treasury Department has been to prop up the markets by purchasing stocks and bonds.

They ultimately make war on some other state as a means of diverting attention from internal conditions and allowing discontent to explode outward. This has not happened yet, but he continues to ratchet up tensions with China, North Korea, and Iran, and in the latter case he brokered a peace deal with two of Iran’s most strident enemies, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, effectively binding the United States to any military actions that they might take against Iran. These is also Venezuela which albeit a failed, and repressive dictatorship, which in Trump’s crosshairs for some time. He or any of the players in these geopolitical regions which resemble a full body dry heave could vomit all over the world, and Trump would us it to do what every authoritarian ruler does when he needs attention drawn away from himself.

They use the rallying cry of patriotism as a means of riveting the chains of their personal authority more firmly on the people. Since his announcement of his candidacy Trump has made the distinction that his supporters are Patriots and those who do not are traitors. He has amped this up every year he has been in office, and his supporters are now showing up armed in the streets as he has used the police power of the state to violently attack those who protest his policies and actions.

They expand the superstructure of the state while undermining its foundations by breeding sycophants at the expense of self-respecting collaborators, by appealing to the popular taste for the grandiose and sensational instead of true values, and by fostering a romantic instead of a realistic view, thus ensuring the ultimate collapse, under their successors if not themselves, of what they have created. The President has expanded and not cut the government, especially in the areas of its police powers, and appointed men and women who are dedicated to protecting him and not the Constitution, laws, or people as heads of agencies.

This political confidence trick, itself a familiar string of tricks, has been repeated all down the ages. Yet it rarely fails to take in a fresh generation. Sadly it has taken in yet another generation, but such is no surprise to anyone who seriously studies history.

But Liddell-Hart wasn’t the only one to warn us of such leaders, those who come to power legally and the work every day to destroy the democratic systems that brought them to power. In fact this was a concern of our founders who in the Declaration of Independence noted:  A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

I cannot think of an American President who these were more pertinent to, then  Donald Trump. He is the man who Alexander Hamilton warned us in his words and in the Federalist Papers: “Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

Yale Historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder warned after Trump was elected in 2016:

”The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”

That is something I have understood since Trump first announced his candidacy in 2015. Two weeks before his election in 2016 I wrote this:

“As I watched and listened to Donald Trump before and after the third and thankfully final debate of the 2016 Presidential election, I was struck with just how viscous, vulgar, and venomous this man is. I cannot remember anyone in American politics at the national level, Republican or Democrat, or for that matter even Whig, who ever managed to immerse himself so deeply into the amoral, unethical, and undemocratic sewer that Trump has bathed himself, the Republican Party and this nation.

Trump’s toxicity is unparalleled in American politics. Everything and everyone who has ever had anything to do with him is poisoned by his touch. Wives, business partners, contractors, employees, political advisors, and supporters have all been stained by the Mustard Gas that Trump emits on a minute to minute basis. Maybe the most stained are the Evangelical Christian church leaders who have not only endorsed and defended Trump, but  who positively described his character as Christian and said nothing about Trump’s words and actions, which if an opponent had uttered, or had been accused, they would have excoriated with a particularly “Christian” self-righteousness.  Their actions have stained the witness of the church for at least the next generation and it is no wonder that young people are fleeing the church. I specifically use the imagery of Mustard Gas, not just because of its toxicity, but because of its persistence. The battlefields of World War One France and Belgium are still contaminated by it, and the toxic residue still injures people today. 

That my friends is the poisonous and corrosive effect of Donald Trump on this country.  He is a toxic and persistent threat to everyone, even his most devout followers. Race baiting, misogynistic, narcissistic, vulgar, and ignorant, Trump spews his vile venom of conspiracy theories wrapped in fiction, and coated in lies, and buttressed with near pornograpic misogyny in every direction. He has given his supporters in the heavily armed Alt-Right, the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and White Supremacists the boldness to come out of hiding because he has normalized their hate, something that no Western statesman or politician has done since before the verdicts at Nuremberg. 

I have long felt that Trump reminded me of Nazi leaders, but frankly most of them, while every bit as toxic as Trump were both more intelligent and were better able to cover the darkness of their amoral souls with a modicum of respectability, with the exception of one; the publisher of the infamous newspaper Der Sturmer, and Gauleiter of Nuremberg, Julius Streicher. 

Robert Jackson, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg referred to Streicher in his summation:

“Streicher, the venomous vulgarian, manufactured and distributed obscene racial libels which incited the populace to accept and assist the progressively savage operations of “race purification.” 

Is that not exactly what Trump has done during his seventeen month campaign to stir up race hatred against Mexicans and Arabs, not to mention Asians and Blacks? Of course it is, which is exactly why the leaders of the Alt-Right claim him as their candidate, the man who in their perverted minds has made them respectable again and ready to assume their place in Trump’s new order. Anti-Semitism and racism runs rampant in the words of his closest collaborators such as the Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, as well as Alt-Right Neo-Nazi and KKK leaders like David Duke, Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and Peter Brimalow. 

My friends, what you see in Trump is what you get. Unlike Hitler and Goering, but much like Streicher, Trump has no capability of maintaining any sort of respectability. He has been stoking the fires of violence by claiming that the election is rigged and pumping up his followers for violence if he loses.”  The link to that article for doubters is here: https://padresteve.com/2016/10/21/the-venomous-vulgarian-donald-trump-and-the-alt-right/

Based on what he says on a daily basis, including admitting that he was deliberately sabotaging the ability of the US Postal Service to ensure that the mail in and absentee ballots are not received in time to be counted for the General Election. If he is successful is an action that will ensure no clear result, confusion, and creating a crisis that our electoral system was not designed to handle and cast doubt on our electoral system that will allow him to win and then proclaim himself President for life.

That might seem cynical but Trump has said “Trump 2024, 2028, 2032” and so on. There is no doubt that his supporters would attempt to overturn the 22nd  Amendment to the Constitution which limits Presidents to two terms in office, including some who have encouraged that.

What President Trump and his appointees are doing is in direct contravention of the Declaration, the Constitution, U.S. Code, the intents of our Founders, and anyone that values liberty for all, not the few.

Judge Learned Hand spoke these words to a citizenship ceremony in which a million and a half people were present in New York’s Central Park, two weeks before D-Day and I think they are most applicable now:

“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.”

This is what is at stake today. We have a Venomous Vulgarian like Julius Streicher as our President. He is a man so open and unrepentant in his racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-American System of Government statements, tweets, and executive orders that it is glaringly obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, except to his Cult who have sworn their eternal allegiance to him. I am not one of them. I am bound by my oath to the Constitution and my vows as a Priest to oppose him at every opportunity. I will obey every legal order, but I will not sacrifice my sacred oath to the Constitution and vows as a Priest in the Holy Catholic Church, to him.

I have both witnessed and experienced what happens to those who merely speak out against his policies based on my oath to the Constitution and my sacred vows as a priest. All that matters to Trump is personal loyalty, which he has neither earned or deserved. He is a draft dodger, he is a serial adulterer, a racist, a serial bankruptcy artist who has left thousands of contractors, employees, and students in the lurch. Likewise he is a serial liar the kind of which has never been seen in history. He makes Hitler and his minions, Stalin and his successors until Gorbachev, Castro, Lenin, Mussolini, Franco, Quisling, Petain and Laval, Putin, the Ayatollahs, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Jefferson Davis and the Lost Cause Cult, and all of the North Korean Kim Family look like pillars of honesty and decency. As an American, it shames me to have to admit this. He makes a mockery of the Christian faith yet his strongest supporters are supposed conservative and evangelical Christians, people who now believe more in the QAon lies than the Gospel.

How can I remain silent? I refuse to be one of his perpetrators, I will fight to ensure that I am not a victim, and most of all I cannot and will not be a bystander and turn my back on his crimes, those already committed and those that he is planning. The German Pastor, theologian, and martyr to Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“We must finally stop appealing to theology to justify our reserved silence about what the state is doing — for that is nothing but fear. ‘Open your mouth for the one who is voiceless’ — for who in the church today still remembers that that is the least of the Bible’s demands in times such as these?”

And I stand by the 22 year old German University student and martyr Sophie Scholl who in writing about Hitler might have well been writing about Trump and his Christian followers:

“Every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed…. I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defence? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? We must attack evil where it is strongest, and it is strongest in the power of Hitler.”

It is quite obvious to me that most American Christians are either completely supportive of Trump, or too afraid to say anything. Some of us do, and I will finish with the words of yet another German martyr to Hitler, Major General Henning Von Tresckow:

cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.”

Tresckow also said:

“It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?”

We have to put an end to the Trump regime at the ballot box, and even that may not cause him give up without a physical fight. His former attorney, Michael Cohen has said exactly that. Trump is destroying the hard work of Americans and our allies to build a better would, and in almost every country, Trump is destroying the image of the United States, like Tresckow said in his time:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

I say to you, whether it is in the spoken word, the written word, the acts of non-violent protests, and at the ballot box we have to put an end to this before he destroys all of us, even his cult of supporters who he would not hesitate to abandon when he no longer needs them, or he knows his reign of terror is at an end, and blames them for his defeat.

If we are too timid or afraid to stand now, this will be forever Trump’s America. Not the America of our Founders or the reformers and resisters who successful fought for the end of slavery, the citizenship of every native born American, the right to vote for first black men, then all women, then the members of our First Nations, then Japanese and other Asians, overturned Jim Crow, fought for civil rights for all, including LGBTQ citizens who were denied the right to marry, property rights, and civil rights long after almost every other American had them.

We have to win this fight legally at the ballot box.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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“They knew that to put God in the Constitution was to put Man Out” Religion and State: The Further Apart the Better

baptistpersecutionvirginia01

Virginia Anglicans Persecution Baptists in the 1780s

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Robert Heinlein wrote that, “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” His words are quite relevant and in a way consistent with the desires of the founders of the United States.

Since I am still working to finish Mine Eyes Have Seen to Glory, in order complete it as soon as I can, I figured that I would publish a slightly edited older post about the the separation of church and state. They are not really original to me, but they are born of reflection on the palpable political anger of the politicians, pundits and preachers of the political-religious movement that I refer to as the “Christian Right.”

In order to be clearly understood it is important for my readers to understand that I am not lumping all “conservative Christians” into the political Christian right. In fact some conservative Christian traditions and their followers are diametrically opposed to the political theology of the Christian Right, which has as its heart the theology of Christian Dominionism, something I have written about many times. This is a modernized understanding of political Calvinism, which has sometimes known as “Seven-Mountain” theology, as such I make a profound distinction between such groups and the political movement which calls itself the Christian Right and assumes that as such it speaks for all conservative Christians.

Gary North, a prominent ideologue of the movement who has advised many of the current Christian Right leaders of the Republican Party, and whose ideas are widely promulgated by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the Christian Right was quite clear in what this movement desires. “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.” Thus, every time you hear the words “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” being uttered by them, please understand that they are talking about their religious liberty only, and that that liberty has at its heart the desire to establish their political-religious dogma as law of the land. Thomas Paine, the author of the amazing little book “Common Sense” which was so much a part of the thought of our founders noted, “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”

Robert Ingersoll, one of this first prominent skeptics in this country and acknowledged atheists wrote something quite profound in understanding the nature of what our founders intended and why there were protections both for and from religion in the Constitution:

“They knew that to put God in the constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping or in the keeping of her God the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship or not to worship that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They intended to found and frame a government for man and for man alone. They wished to preserve the individuality of all to prevent the few from governing the many and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”

Ingersoll correctly reflected the thoughts of Jefferson, Madison, Adams and even George Washington as well as early Virginia Baptist John Leland, and other pioneers of religious liberty like Roger Williams, the founder of the colony of Rhode Island.

According to every scientifically based survey of Christians and non-Christian attitudes toward the church and its religious involvement show that ever-increasing numbers of Christians are fleeing the church. Likewise, increasing numbers of non-Christians want nothing to do with it, even if they are favorably disposed to Jesus and his teachings.

In light of this fact, maybe it is time for Christians to get off their high-horse expecting that they should hold the rights to the political franchise and remember the words of James Madison who said, “Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Finally, I want to add two quotes from the great Virginia Baptist leader who helped Jefferson and Madison in drafting the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, and the First Amendment.

Leland wrote: 

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

And this:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

I have to say these things because I refuse to be driven underground by a cult that neither believes or practices what it says, except in promoting their political and economic power at the expense of others, even if it means their subjugation and elimination of their Constitutional rights.

I especially say them for my Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other friends from smaller religions and traditions, as well as my friends who are Atheists or Agnostics.

With that I say Amen, and wish you a good night and day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The 76th Anniversary of Operation Valkyrie: A Meditation from Henning Von Tresckow

 

Major General Henning Von Tresckow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that resistance seems almost hopeless. Today, with DHS officers in combat gear sweeping the streets of cities in which the were not invited, I am watching events that I never thought possible in our country. The whole action seems reminiscent of Hitler’s Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) order which disappeared people all over Europe being re-enacted here. Now some 76 years today a group of German military officers and civilians attempted to kill Adolf Hitler and end the Nazi dictatorship, patriotic Americans are having to chose between serving a criminal administration which despises the Constitution, our laws, and our institutional guardrails that prevent any one branch of government or agency can establish itself as an authoritarian dictatorship.

Many people forget that the Nazis took power through Constitutional means and once they had it never gave it up. Hermann Goering said:

British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

One of the problems is that throughout history, resisters frequently fail to unify in the face of their primary adversary and instead look for the faults among their own potential leaders. That my friends is the way to failure. So tonight, or as it is early this morning I will leave you with a few thoughts of one of the key German resistance leaders against Hitler during the Second World War. That man was Major General Henning Von Tresckow, a key member of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Tresckow said a number of things that I will quote in the way he said or wrote them. But for every time Tresckow writes or says Hitler, substitute Trump, and when he says Germany, substitute the United States.

In reality that is now where we find ourselves. We are on the verge of a dictatorship of a man who can barely be called sane. Yet, he has a core Cult, of committed followers who will through their own willful avoidance of the truth would support him even if he overthrew the Constitution, and proclaimed dictatorial powers, and unleashed violence against every domestic opponent. He routinely makes those kinds of threats, to the cheers of his Cult. In one of his speeches from March 14th of this year Trump declared:

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”

That is not a comfortable thought, but it is the new normal, especially among his supposedly Christian supporters, who include some of the most powerful religious leaders in the country.

Tresckow noted:

“I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.”

I feel the same way about Trump, whose most fervent and loyal supporters are conservative or Evangelical Christians. Honestly, when I read their writing, hear the speeches, and listen to their defense of Trump I see little difference in them and the German Christian movement that turned the Churches into a key part Hitler’s political base. Honestly, I cannot understand how any Christian cannot be a furious adversary of the Trump regime. This is not based on politics at all, but the demands of the Gospel itself. As Jesus taught in Matthew 24:24:

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

Trump is an unbeliever in the greatest sense of the word. Though he presents himself as a defender of Christianity; in thought, word, and deed has made himself a cult-like messiah figure to conservative and Evangelical Christians. He has played on their fears, their racism, their misogyny, their homophobia, and their fear of something that they call socialism. Of course the early church was much more or a practitioner ethics that bordered on socialism, though the term was not yet in use, than the post-Nicea imperial church that has been the face of Christianity in most “Christian” countries since Constantine. This Trump Cult is not Christian: it is an anti-Christian, and anti-humanity personality cult.

Unlike the Third Reich, the situation has not reached the point for any resistier to resort to political violence in response to Trump or his Cult. Instead we must speak the truth and seek to win elections, and not build cult like followings of any of our candidates, and destroy any sense of unity. We have to win with ideas and truth. Even so there is a possibility that we could fail, that is a possibility, and that failure would be the certain end of our Republic, its institutions, and its Constitution as we know it.

Tresckow also said:

“It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?”

We have to put an end to the Trump regime at the ballot box, and even that may not cause him give up without a physical fight. His former attorney, Michael Cohen has said exactly that. Trump is destroying the hard work of Americans and our allies to build a better would, and in almost every country, Trump is destroying the image of the United States, like Tresckow said in his time:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Those are import words, but just substitute the name Trump for Hitler. Tresckow was no socialist or liberal, but he believed in freedom. In fact he wrote regarding the Prussian political tradition and how it could be subverted to support evil:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

Truthfully that is a spirit much like the United States that which is engulfing the United States today, soulless routine and narrow minded dogmatism. The tension that exists in the key ideal of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, and the words of Trump and his supporters men who desire to rule by fiat and by extra-Constitutional means, cannot be more marked than it is today.

In the movie adaptation of the plot to kill Hitler Valkyrie: Tresckow is quoted:

“God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men… I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.”

To be sure, Trump is no Hitler, though his words sound more and more Hitlerian every day. I will not call the President a Nazi, though he has give tacit support to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups and frequently engages in racist diatribes. He is certainly acting as any authoritarian leader would, and we have to heed the warning of Russian dissident Gary Kasparov:

“dictators & would be autocrats do not ask “Why?” when it comes to using power for their advantage. They ask “why not?”

To go back to the words of Tresckow in Valkyrie, in noting it may come down to the actions of one man or woman, my friends, that “one” may come down to you or me. We cannot sit silently by as more and more actions that would have been considered as criminal are perpetrated by the President and his followers.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge Learned Hand 

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

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

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

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: None at all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Now or Never the Choice Between Freedom and Tyranny in the Last Months of Trump’s Regime

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today will be another day of working around the house to get it ready for our new puppy, which is also mid-COVID 19 belated spring cleaning. It’s going to be a full day of work. 

This is an article about resisters and those that revisited the evil of the Nazi State. Many of these men and women sacrificed their lives in their efforts to resist Hitler. They included university students, military officers, civil servants, clerics, and ordinary citizens. This was part one of a series that I never completed. Over the next few weeks I will complete the series, after I finish my book. 

Let me make it clear, despite the President’s despotic and narcissistic actions which have been so harmful to so many Americans, and which threaten the stability of the world and could end up in war; we are not living in 1930s Germany, and Trump is not Hitler. At the same time there are many troubling parallels. In my opinion it would not take much to bring us to a similar point, especially as the President doubles down on intentionally racist, sexist, and simply inhuman and cruel words, policies, and actions in the midst of a pandemic, an economic meltdown, and crashing poll numbers leading up to the November elections.

One wonders because on March 14th he said: “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”  then during the protests of the death of George Floyd he attempted to do just that in Washington D.C.

These are very dangerous times. 

They are known and unknown but all resisted tyrants and all have become inspirational figures in my life. They are men and women, and many are soldiers or clergy, while others were civil rights leaders. Most were advocates of non-violence, but some due to the incredibly evil nature of the regime under which they lived and served resorted to violence. But all show me and I hope will show you that the path of resistance is not futile.

The problem is that far too many people become discouraged the longer the struggle lasts and end up accommodating themselves to the evil regimes under which they lived. That will probably be the experience of those who struggle against tyranny around the world today as authoritarianism under many guises becomes more entrenched. It is a world wide phenomena but if the classic understanding of democratic liberalism advocated by so many including the founders of the United States is to survive, authoritarians and their tyrannical worldview must be resisted.

Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich wrote:

“I’ve been thinking of a story from the Old Testament: Moses stood all day and all night with outstretched arms, praying to God for victory. And whenever he let down his arms, the enemy prevailed over the children of Israel. Are there still people today who never weary of directing all their thinking and all their energy, single-heartedly, to one cause?”

That my friends is important.

Yesterday, July 20th was the 74th anniversary of Operation Valkyrie, the attempt of conservative German military officers, diplomats, and others to kill Hitler and end the tyrannical and genocidal Nazi regime. Among the men who died in that attempt were Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, General Henning von Trescow, General Ludwig Beck, Lieutenant Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim, and General Friedrich Olbricht. Others were implicated and were murdered after kangaroo court proceedings at the hand of the Volksgericht, the “People’s Court” headed by Roland Freisler. Among them was Field Marshal Erich von Witzleben. While Freisler hounded and tried to humiliate him Witzleben remained calm and announced to the court:

“You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months’ time, the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!”

General Henning von Tresckow

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” He also wrote: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” When the attempt failed von Trescow was serving on the Russian front far away from Berlin. To avoid arrest and the possibility that under torture he could implicate others or cause harm to his wife and children von Trescow killed himself. Another participant wrote that before his death von Trescow said:

“The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about dying, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give his life in defense of his convictions.”

Ludwig Beck

General Ludwig Beck

Beck, who had resigned his post as commander of the German Army in protest of the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia wrote something that has become a key part of my military and personal ethic: “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.”

Tresckow, a committed Christian also noted of Hitler’s supposedly Christian supporters: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” 

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Admiral Wilhelm Canaris 

There were other Christian resisters of the Hitler regime. Hans Oster was the son of a pastor and one of the senior officers in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence. His boss, Admiral Wihelm Canaris was also a resister. Both would be executed on the personal order of Hitler in April 1945 along with Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all had been arrested for their involvement in anti-Hitler activities. For his part Canaris would note something that military, intelligence, or police officials who might be tempted to excuse the actions of modern day tyrants or would be authoritarians:

“One day the world will hold the Wehrmacht responsible for these methods since these things are taking place under its nose.”

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Pastor Bonhoeffer who died with Oster and Canaris at Flossenburg wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

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Hermann Maas 

Hermann Maas, another Lutheran pastor made his mark by speaking out in defense of Jews and Socialists. He angered the German political right including the Nazis by doing so. He aided Jews and other non-Aryans to escape Germany, and cared for the elderly Jews who could not. He was removed from his pastorate and imprisoned. He survived the war and would be the first German recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Maas discussed the responsibility of all Germans for the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis, something that Christians and others in nations like the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America that are threatened by authoritarian leaders and racist regimes:

“Every German bears responsibility for Germany no matter who he is or where he stands, in the homeland or abroad, in public and at home. No one can absolve him of this responsibility. He can transfer it to no one.” 

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Sophie Scholl

But these men were not the only opponents of the Nazi regime. A young woman, a student at the University of Munich named Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were at the center of an anti-Nazi resistance called the White Rose. They published and distributed a number of anti-Nazi leaflets and were caught doing so in early 1943.

One of those pamphlets noted:

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?

If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass – then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now – the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability – are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems – but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate.

Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.

Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.”

She wrote:

“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.”

I think of all of these people that I admire young Sophie Scholl the most. She had no power. She was not an officer, a government official, a businessman, or a pastor. She was simply a young woman who was informed by her faith and her concern for basic human morality and ethics.

While the Nazi State was consumed by the flames of Hitler’s Götterdämmerung, the lives and message of those few who resisted still redounds to us today. And yes, in comparison to the majority of Germans  of the Hitler era, they were a tiny minority, Of over 2000 German General and Flag officers a mere 22 were involved in anti-Nazi activities and the same is true for most professions in the Third Reich.

Milton Mayer wrote the words of a German University Professor and colleague after the war was over. The professor was reflecting on how people ended up going along with the Nazi regime. Mayer wrote his friends words:

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I think this is something for every American to ponder in the age of Trump.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Silence In the Face of Evil Itself: A Dark Meditation of Resistance in Trump’s America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I have written about that a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, though I hoped for a different outcome. In the past three and a half years the President has gone from bad to worse.

He cannot tell the truth about anything, so his staff and supporters invented something they called alternative truth, or alternative facts. Within months of his inauguration he was overturning civil rights protections for many Americans, those who had little power to resist. He went after the voting rights of Black Americans, the elderly, and the poor. He went after LGBTQ people’s basic civil rights, many of which were only recently won. He went after the human rights of immigrants, and refugees, even the children of people who came here decades ago, the Dreamers who were raised as Americans, who served in the military, and how had become contributors to the American way of life, though they were deprived of citizenship. He promised to build a wall to keep out Latin American refugees, though not completed he took actions that separated families and locked children in cages on concrete floors as he enriched the most wealthy with tax cuts, but in the process blew the budget deficit into realms never dreamed about before. He attacked patriotic Americans, including members of the military calling them traitors because they respected the Constitution more than worshipping him. He went after long time American allies and made himself a de facto ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He made his presidency one of White Supremacy and the economy, but his Presidency was built upon smoke mirrors and lies. When the novel Coronavirus 19 was identified as an epidemic in China and then as a pandemic he ignored it and then minimized it time after time again. Then everything came apart on him with dire results for the country at large.

When COVID 19 finally began to hit the United States and kill people he finally acted, but far too late. Now over 118,000 Americans are dead, and that is the official count, which is certainly a large undercount, with two million more being infected and half of those still at risk of death. But it wasn’t until the economy began to tank and Wall Street crashed that he did anything. The virus is still here, with tens of thousands a day being infected, as he continues to push to reopen the economy to go back to a normal that cannot be restored, regardless of the number of lives lost.

Then there were a spate of targeted killings of Black men by Whites acting as vigilantes, and police brutality and excessive force. The men, and a woman who happened to be an EMT for the City of Louisville, can only be classed as murder. The straw that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds until he was dead. When massive protests broke out all over the nation he ordered maximum force to be used and tried to co-opt the military into becoming involved into his political fight for survival. In doing that he attacked peaceful protestors in Lafayette Park and at St John’s Episcopal Church. The assault, launched as he was speaking from the Rose Garden was brutal. Tear gas, pepper spray grenades, rubber bullets were followed rolled by an all out assault by Federal Police and National Guardsmen, including mounted units. When the square was cleared the President marched out for a photo-op displaying the Bible as a weapon. Military leaders reacted in horror and refused to support any more such actions.

Sadly, I could keep listing abuse after abuse of the law and Constitution by President Trump, but don’t think that I need to continue.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To the soon to be former GOP Congressman, Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him seem to want blood flowing in the streets, they want a new Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that Congressman King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns, including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.”


The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while former Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her successors deny that the President’s words and actions, and vilify anyone that bothers to disagree with the President or their blatant lies. So when Huckabee Sander is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or former DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.


Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my old chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

In fact two years ago Wednesday, in my former Chapel, a parishioner, a retired Navy Officer attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for preaching basic Catholic and Christian social justice teaching that goes back to the Old Testament where the Psalmists cry out for justice against oppressors and the Kings, Priests, and rich who the Prophets condemned, and which at least in the Catholic tradition still remains. The man blatantly lied about what I said. He said that in the sermon I called the President Hitler, and the Border Patrol the Gestapo.

It was all a lie, but an investigation was launched. Instead of trusting my life and career to a brand new Navy lawyer, I reached out to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who found me an experienced former military lawyer who had taken on high profile cases before. The investigating officer wanted to interview me, but I refused without legal counsel. So he interviewed half of the congregation that was present that day. None would corroborate the accusations but some said that they disagreed with my sermon because of their political views. I was exonerated and the investigation stopped there, but if I had retired out of that assignment, I would have probably never darkened the door of a church again. That experience confirmed the worst thoughts that I had about the Conservative Christians who make up the majority of President Trump’s Cult. They no longer care about Christ, the teachings of the Christian faith, but only care about establishing a Christian theocracy on the order of the modern Taliban, Calvin’s Geneva, or Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. In 1945 Captain Gustave Gilbert, a US Army Psychologist assigned room the major Nazi War Criminals noted that one thing tied all of them together, the absence of empathy. He would remark, that he had come to the conclusion that “evil is the absence of empathy.”

As I conclude this article I am reminded of the words of the German General Henning Von Tresckow, who died in the attempt to kill Hitler and destroy the Nazi State:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

I think we could easily substitute the United States for Prussia in his words. We have lost that balance that Tresckow described, and it will destroy us if we are not careful.

Sadly, the absence of empathy all too well describes the malignant narcissistic sociopath that is President Trump, his family, his inner circle, and his most faithful supporters appear to be. I could be wrong, but I know that I am not. I expect that things will get worse much worse before they get better. I say this because I truly believe that since they don’t believe in the promise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or the rights laid out in the Constitution including its amendments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Coronavirus Pandemic: Leadership and the Ability to Admit the Hard Truth and Inspire them to Greater Things during an Existential Crisis

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Winston Churchill said:

“There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.” 

I think that Americans, once we strip away the veneers we have laid over our society, and tear down the walls that ideologues have tried to divide us will realize this, probably sooner rather than later.

As we approach an total 80,000 deaths attributable to the novel Coronavirus 19 I am reflecting on it and the 1918-1919 Great Influenza. I am not so much thinking about similarities in the viruses, but both were, or are highly infectious, airborne, and could be spread through touching droplets of it from tables, chairs, doorknobs and then wiping one’s face without having thoroughly washed their hands.

Likewise, since no vaccine existed for either. It was not until the 1940s that one was developed for the H1N1 Great Influenza, and still none today for COVID 19. While virologists and researchers are working around the world to find one, most experts believe that one will not be available for a year to eighteen months, not including the manufacturing and distribution time should one be developed.

Like 1918-1919, which actually continued through 1920, the only defense was what we call non-pharmacological interventions. It is like going forward into the past, and unsurprisingly many of these interventions are as unpopular today as they were in the Great Influenza pandemic.

The interventions included then, and now are well known. They include what we now call Social distancing; the prevention of the spreading or inhaling of infected droplets from coughing, sneezing, or being in the close proximity to an infected by the virus by wearing face masks; as well as frequent hand washing, wearing protective gloves when needed, and sanitizing work stations, and common areas where people gather. Some states and cities even criminalized spitting in public places.

In 1918-1919 these measures were all taken by local or state authorities businesses were closed, sporting events, including the NHL Stanley Cup were postponed or cancelled. In some municipalities mayors, like that of St. Louis shut down church services, and did not cave in to immensely powerful clergymen, like the Archbishop of St. Louis. Cities that took these measures in 1918-1920 and didn’t let up even in the face of public pressure minimized their deaths and ensured that hospitals were not overwhelmed. As a result, even with the restrictions life began to resume at a normal pace.

In the cities that eased up, or eliminated their non pharmacological interventions in the face of public pressure, the influenza returned with a vengeance because there were still far too many people who had no immunity to the virus. Of course the pressure was do to business leaders, politicians, and religious leaders. One group even called itself an “anti-mask league.” But even though there was public opposition to these measures, even some protests, which by and large used the same rational as today’s protestors, there is no instance of protestors invading state capital buildings, or city halls. Nor did they resort to violence or threats against local leaders. Likewise, unlike now, they did not have the active support of the President, or nationwide television and internet media outlets to spread their message and threaten state and local government officials.

Likewise, there is the difference in the attitudes of the Presidents during each pandemic, Woodrow Wilson during the 1918-1919 pandemic, and Donald J. Trump today. The two were very different, Wilson was a native of Virginia, a Democrat, an academic, and a former university professor and President of Princeton University when drafted to campaign for the governorship of New Jersey, which he one in 1910. His policies as governor propelled him into being nominated as the Democratic candidate for President in 1912. He won the election, mostly because the Republicans were divided by the candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt running as a third party candidate and the incumbent, William Howard Taft. They split the conservative vote and had just over 50% of the vote between them. Wilson lost progressive votes to Socialist Eugene Debs, who garnered 6% of the vote. Wilson’s 42% was enough to garner a majority in the Electoral College.

Wilson’s policies were more progressive than most Democrats of his era, but not nearly as progressive as Teddy Roosevelt or Eugene Debs. Though he championed and helped establish the Federal Reserve and anti-trust laws, Women’s Rights, and those of workers, he remained a Southern Racist and segregationist at heart. His actions as President set back the civil rights of Blacks, in the military and civil service, and his premier of D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation legitimatized the rise of the second birth of the KKK. However, they were enough to ensure that he barely won re-election in 1916.

Wilson led the effort to have Congress declare war on Germany and its allies in April 1917, and once war began he became completely focused on it, and it was only. Nothing else mattered. In regard to the Great Influenza he made no public statements about the pandemic, and when the war ended he went to Europe and remained completely engaged in fighting for his 14 Points and the establishment of the League of Nations. He was unsuccessful at Versailles which his points were swept aside by Britain and France, and defeated at home when Congress refused to ratify the treaty establishing the League of Nations. He was a believer in internationalism and not nationalism or isolationism. He suffered a stroke which left him incapacitated for most of his remaining year and a half in office. All that being said he never sought to undermine physicians and scientists, or state and local governments doing their best to contain the virus, even as they searched for a cure.

I won’t go into his differences with President Trump other to say that Trump would have supported his racist policies, and opposed Wilson’s progressive policies. Likewise he would have been an isolationist and not an internationalist.

The big difference in the men is in how they chose to deal with pandemics that where killing tens of thousands of Americans. Wilson remained silent and focused on prosecuting the war at whatever cost. That being said he did not interfere with the efforts of the newly established National Health Service, or the heads of the Army and Navy Medical Departments, the American Red Cross, or the states to fight the virus and save lives.

While Wilson remained unengaged, he didn’t interfere with efforts of others to to fight it, however, he could have done much more. That is very different from President Trump who has tried to discredit scientists and doctors, creditable intelligence reports, going back to December of 2019, issued conflicting, contradictory, and completely false statements about the virus. He is now doing his best to undermine the only effective measures outside a vaccine to stop the spread of the virus, even when his administration published a report that if the guidelines were not strictly adhered to, would result in a doubling or tripling of death from COVID19 by this summer.

Unlike Wilson who was so focused on winning the war as well as the peace, Trump is only focused on his power, authority, and self-image, without any concern for how many Americans might die. He has a fantasy that he can make things go back to they way they were a few months ago, and in that world facts, science, and history, have no importance. Nor do human lives. He insists on the testing of anyone near him, and to be tested regularly, inside a tightly sealed location, even as he disparages the importance and efficacy of testing for the general population. When he is exposed to the virus he goes into a volcanic rage that his staff is not doing enough to protect him. I guess he is experiencing what many Americans have felt since March.

A members of ReOpen Maryland wearing a custom face mask listens to a speaker during a road rally procession calling for the re-opening for the state of Maryland amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sailsbury, Maryland, U.S., May 2, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Even so he allows his Attorney General, Bob Barr, to threaten States and cities with lawsuits or penalties that he believes are excessive “draconian” measures to maintain public health and safety. This is nothing but an authoritarian or dictatorial measure. If successful it will forever destroy the separation of powers between the states and the Federal government established by our founders in the Constitution.

I’m sorry, but that is not a leadership trait. It is the trait of a pathologically, narcissistic, sociopath, who has no concern for anyone but himself. No American President has ever behaved in this kind of manner. That being said he is preying on those who believe conspiracy theories. He is stoking their distrust the government, and encouraging them to have less empathy than they already have for other human beings that they believe to be weak, or whose lives are expendable. To use the terms of the Euthanasia proponents of to 1920s and 1930s, and the actions of Hitler’s SS medical and euthanasia experts, such people, the weak, the by the chronically ill or those possibly afflicted with terminal disease, the mentally ill, the elderly, the poor, or anyone else considered to be Life unworthy of life.

The focus of this President is his political survival and it does not matter how many people have to die to revive his personal myth of creating the greatest economy in history. So he has countermanded his own directives, and undercut and discredit the scientists and experts who know how to best deal with a pandemic and it’s human and economic effects,  in order to attempt to recreate a mythical past that any worthwhile scientist, economist, or historian, would not expressly condemn as a myth, fantasy, and ravings of a man who created nothing, and who was a failure in almost every enterprise he undertook. The numerous corporate bankruptcies, the multiple failed marriages, the unfulfilled promises of his campaign and presidency, as well as the tens of thousands of fact checked lies and distortions, that he has told during his campaign and throughout his Presidency bear this out in lurid detail. Dwight Eisenhower noted: “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” It is something that President Trump has never understood.

Now in the middle of the COVID 19 Pandemic, he has ensured that a pandemic which would have killed many people, and harmed the economy regardless of who was serving as President, was made worse by his words and actions. When it was first identified and there was a chance to prepare with a unified whole of government response, he ignored it. He denied it would come to the United States. He minimized it once it arrived. Then he declared himself to be a wartime President, but made unfulfilled promise after promise, and ignored actionable intelligence going back to January, if not before. Likewise, he abandoned responsibilities which are normally those of the Federal government, and pushed them off on the states. It would have been like Franklin Roosevelt telling the governors that fighting the Second World War was their job.

I do not want to sound harsh but I value truth and competence in a public office holder above allegiance to any political party. But the President’s actions have made both the public health and economy more than they should have been.

As of now there have been over 78,000 deaths in the United States and over 1.3 million infections, of which over a million are still active cases. Around 2,000 people are dying per day, and the daily infections are creeping back up to 30,000 a day, even as deaths and infections in New York and New Jersey, for long the epicenter of the virus have sharply declined. At the same time the states most resistant to the non pharmacological interventions, those with massive protests, are starting to increase by large numbers since their state governments started ignoring public health guidelines, and opening up their states to business with limited regard to public health and safety.

As a side note, my wife Judy and I both tested negative to COVID19 following a possible exposure of her that resulted in a fever. I had not symptoms, but since we live together I felt being tested was the right thing to do.  I could not take a chance that We spent the last three days under quarantine waiting for the results, and no matter what we do we always wear masks, social distance, and minimize our public exposure, and take no chances that if we got infected we would not infect anyone else. It’s called being a responsible human being.

By the way the doctor at the clinic where we were tested said the masks that Judy makes are the best that he has seen and probably as effective as an N-95 because of the number of layers of fabric, the removable polypropylene layer, the adjustable nose piece, the adjustable straps and the excellent seal.

But before I close let me talk about masks. They take a while to get used to wearing if you never have worn them before. Some people find them to cause claustrophobia, and some people hyperventilate. The key is to find a comfortable clothe mask that is more than one layer thick that has an adjustable nose piece, and provides a tight seal around your nose and mouth. If you find yourself hyperventilating, calm done and take a few deep breaths. Then when you are wearing it in public make sure that you are wearing it correctly. Make sure you have a good seal and ensure that both you mouth and nose are covered. This serves a twofold purpose, to protect others in case you have the virus, and to protect yourself from getting it. Back in my Army days in Cold War Germany we had to learn to live wearing an M-17A1 protective mask, as well as a protective suit, heavy rubber gloves, and  rubber overshoes to wear over our boots for up to twelve hours at a time. Trust me, none of the cloth protective masks, or medical masks being used today are nearly as claustrophobia inducing as one of them.

If you one of the fools that protests social distancing and wearing masks as attacks on your freedom, including your religious freedom, please don’t call yourself “pro-life.” Your words and actions show that you are not, and that you do not care about the lives of others, especially their right to life, which among the three unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, is first, ahead of liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Likewise, attacking state houses and city halls while assaulting police, while outfitted in body armor, helmets, and carrying assault type weapons, high powered rifles, and semiautomatic handguns with large magazine capacities is not patriotic, but criminal. I have served this country in peace and war for coming up on 39 years, and I don’t see such actions patriotism but terrorism. The interesting thing is that most of these rallies are being led and financed by anti-government White Nationalist, and Neo-Nazi groups who want to start a civil war.

Honestly, when I see politicians, pundits, and preachers trying to push for trying to go back to how things were a few months ago with the virus still rages is beyond me. If they succeed they will ensure that the number of infections and deaths spike higher than previously, and do far more damage to the economy, especially if people ignore the non pharmacological interventions, which are our only defense right now until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed.

Despite this I am not a pessimist or fear monger, but a realist who believes that we can beat this and eventually be better off than we were. Like Winston Churchill in the dark days of the Blitz said to the beleaguered but not defeated British people:

“We shall go forward together. The road upwards is stony. There are upon our journey dark and dangerous valleys through which we have to make and fight our way. But it is sure and certain that if we persevere – and we shall persevere – we shall come through these dark and dangerous valleys into a sunlight broader and more genial and more lasting than mankind has ever known.” 

I wish that President Trump were so inspiring and realistic. We would be better off today had he been more like Churchill, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said during the dark days of the depression with the clouds of war building in Europe and Asia:

“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

In our battle to overcome the novel Coronavirus 19 we must never lose sight of what our fellow citizens suffer in order to simply try to jumpstart an economy that where unemployment has jumped to 14.7%, a number not seen since the Great Depression and where another quarter of negative economic growth will officially confirm we be in another depression. Since neither the Coronavirus or our massive economic problems will not disappear with the waving of a magic wand, we need face the reality as did men like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. We need what we need now from our leaders is the brutal honesty to tell the truth as unpleasant as it may be, who will still inspire us to pull together as Americans, and human being and overcome this scourge, for we are not merely dealing with a pandemic and economic collapse, but every day we see the storm clouds of war gathering around the world.

We need leaders at the Federal, State and local level who are willing to speak truth rather than pleasantries designed to tickle itching ears and in the process avoid scrutiny. When he became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940, Britain and France were facing disaster. Nazi Panzer Divisions had broken through the French lines and were spreading behind the allied lines like a virus without a cure. Churchill told the members of Parliament, the people of Britain, and the world the truth, as unpleasant as it was. He said:

“I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terrors — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival…

I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

That is what we need. We don’t need a man who calls himself a wartime President and then on multiple opportunities denies all responsibility for his actions on multiple occasions. We need leaders at every level who are willing to tell the truth and say, the buck stops here.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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“We are All Americans” Reflection on Appomattox during The COVID-19 Pandemic

chamberlian gordon appomattox

Joshua Chamberlain Receives the Surrender of John Gordon at Appomattox

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a difficult, tiring, and yet extraordinary week. I have had little sleep, and did all that I could do to be with and among the people I serve. Of course I always wear a high quality face mask when outside the confines of my very isolated cubicle so I can be out and among them. Unfortunately, technology, the unpreparedness of our nation and military for the novel Coronavirus pandemic, and my own medical needs made yesterday very exhausting and frustrating. I haven’t published anything here since 7 April, which is unusual for me, as I seldom miss a day without writing something. Over the past couple of days I have been working on a different article which will be later today or early tomorrow. I just thought that this was more timely.

So now I am publishing a highly edited and revised post about the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia to the Armies commanded by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

That event is something that all Americans should still celebrate today, because it was a moral and patriotic act of surrendering individual agendas for the sake of the Union, reconciliation, and equality. I hope that we can learn from it today.

Until tomorrow or whenever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

One hundred and fifty-five years ago on the 9th and 10th of April 1865, four men, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E. Lee, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Ely Parker, taught succeeding generations of Americans the value of mutual respect and reconciliation.

The four men were all very different. The very thought that they would do so after a bitter and bloody war that had cost the lives of close to three quarters of a million Americans which had left hundreds of thousands others maimed, shattered or without a place to live, and who had seen vast swaths of the country ravaged by war and its attendant plagues is quite remarkable.

The differences in the men, their upbringing, and their views about life seemed to be insurmountable. The Confederate commander, General Robert E. Lee was the epitome of a Southern aristocrat and career army officer.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, like Lee was a West Point graduate and veteran of the War with Mexico, but there the similarities ended. Grant was an officer of humble means who had struggled with alcoholism and failed in his civilian life after he left the army, before returning to it as a volunteer when war began.

Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had been a professor of rhetoric and natural and revealed religion from Bowdoin College until 1862 when he volunteered to serve in the Army against the wishes of his wife. He was one of the heroes of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, who helped exemplify the importance of citizen soldiers, and military professionals in peace and war.

Finally there was Colonel Ely Parker, a full-blooded Seneca Indian.  Parker was professional engineer by trade, but was barred from being an attorney because as a Native American he was never considered an American citizen. At the beginning of the war Parker was rejected from serving in the army for the same reason, but his friend Grant obtained him an officer’s commission and kept him on his staff for the entirety of the war.

grant 1

General Ulysses S. Grant

On 5 April 1865 the Confederate line around the fortress of Petersburg was shattered at the battle of Five Forks. To save the last vestiges of his army Lee attempted to withdraw to the west. Within a few days the once magnificent Army of Northern Virginia was trapped near the town of Appomattox. On the morning of April 9th 1865 Lee replied to an entreaty of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant requesting that he and his Army of Northern Virginia be allowed to surrender. Lee wrote to Grant:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 9, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

R.E. LEE, General.

The once mighty Army of Northern Virginia, which had won many victories, but more defeats, and in almost every battle except Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor, lost as a higher percentage of casualties that they could not replace, as compared to their foes in the Army of the Potomac. At its peak strength during the Gettysburg campaign, Lee’s Army numbered nearly 80,000 men, but less than two years later it was now a haggard and emaciated, but still proud force of about 15,000 soldiers. For Lee to continue the war now would mean that they would have to face even more hopeless odds against a vastly superior enemy. Grant recognized this and wrote Lee:

I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be set-tied without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c.,

Since the high water mark at Gettysburg, Lee’s army had been on the defensive. Lee’s ill-fated offensive into Pennsylvania was one of the two climactic events that sealed the doom of the Confederacy. The other was Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, which surrendered to him a day after Pickett’s Charge. That day became known as The Most Glorious Fourth, because the dual defeats coincided with the 87th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But it was Grant’s victory which cut the Confederacy in half, and was the true beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

ileerob001p1

General Robert E. Lee

However, those disastrous defeats did not end the war. Lee conducted a bloody and ultimately doomed defensive struggle that lasted through 1864 as Grant bled the Confederates dry during the Overland Campaign, leading to the long siege of Petersburg. Likewise the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman cut a swath through the Deep South, captured Atlanta, the true industrial and economic hub of the Confederacy. Grant forced Lee into a protracted siege at Petersburg, while Sherman cut a swath across Georgia and the Carolinas, capturing Charleston, South Carolina, the ideological heart of the Confederate cause, South Carolina’s Capital of Columbia, and Wilmington, North Carolina, the last of the major Confederate seaports.

With each battle that followed Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia became weaker, and finally after the nine month long siege of Petersburg ended with a Union victory there was little else to do. Lee wanted to continue the war but his beloved shatter shell of an Army was trapped. On the morning of April 9th a final attempt to break through the Union lines by Major General John Gordon’s division was turned back by vastly superior Union forces.

But, two days before, on April 7th Grant wrote a letter to Lee, which began the process of ending the war in Virginia. He wrote:

General R. E. LEE:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General

Lee was hesitant to surrender knowing Grant’s reputation for insisting on unconditional surrender, terms that Lee could not yet bring himself to accept. Lee replied to Grant’s offer with this message:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 7, 1865 Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R.E. LEE, General.

The correspondence continued over the next day even as the Confederates hoped to fight their way out of the trap that they were in. But now Robert E. Lee, who had through his efforts extended the war for at least six months, knew that he could no longer continue. Even so, some of Lee’s younger subordinates wanted to continue the fight. When his artillery chief Porter Alexander recommended that the Army be released he recommended that the soldiers of the Army, “take to the woods and report to their state governors.”

Lee knew that such action would bring about even more death and destruction.

“We have simply now to face the fact that the Confederacy has failed. And as Christian men, Gen. Alexander, you & I have no right to think for one moment of our personal feelings or affairs. We must consider only the effect which our action will have upon the country at large.”

Lee continued:

“Already [the country] is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of their officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live…. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from… You young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Alexander was so humbled at Lee’s reply he later wrote “I was so ashamed of having proposed such a foolish and wild cat scheme that I felt like begging him to forget he had ever heard it.” When Alexander saw the gracious terms of the surrender he was particularly impressed with how non-vindictive the terms were, especially in terms of parole and amnesty for the surrendered soldiers.

Abraham Lincoln had already set the tone for the surrender in his Second Inaugural Address given just over a month before the surrender of Lee’s army. Lincoln closed that speech with these words of reconciliation.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

appomattox surrender

Lee met Grant at the house of Wilmer McLean, who had moved to Appomattox in 1861 after his home near Manassas had been used as a Confederate headquarters and was damaged by artillery fire. Lee was dressed in his finest uniform complete with sash, while Grant was dressed in a mud splattered uniform and overcoat only distinguished from his soldiers by the three stars on his shoulder boards. Grant’s dress uniforms were far to the rear in the baggage trains, and Grant was afraid that his slovenly appearance would insult Lee, but it did not. It was a friendly meeting. Before getting down to business the two reminisced about the Mexican War in which they had both served and first met. At that time Lee was one of the rising stars of the Army, and Grant a mere Lieutenant.

Grant provided his vanquished foe very generous surrender terms:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

When Lee left the building Federal troops began cheering in jubilation, but Grant ordered them to stop. He did not want to personally humiliate Lee anymore than the reality of defeat and surrender already done.  Afterward, Grant felt a sense of melancholy and wrote “I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

In the hours before and after the signing of the surrender documents old friends and West Point classmates, separated by four long years of war gathered on the porch or around the house. Grant and others were gracious to their now defeated friends and the bitterness of war began to melt away. Some Union officers offered money to help their Confederate friends get through the coming months. It was an emotional reunion, especially for the former West Point classmates gathered there.

“It had never been in their hearts to hate the classmates they were fighting. Their lives and affections for one another had been indelibly framed and inextricably intertwined in their academy days. No adversity, war, killing, or political estrangement could undo that. Now, meeting together when the guns were quiet, they yearned to know that they would never hear their thunder or be ordered to take up arms against one another again.”

Grant also ordered that 25,000 rations be transported to the starving Confederate army waiting to surrender. The gesture meant much to the defeated Confederate soldiers who had had little to eat ever since the retreat from Petersburg began.

The surrender itself was accomplished with a recognition that only soldiers who have given the full measure of devotion can know when confronting a defeated and humiliated enemy who before had been their countrymen. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic victor of Little Round Top was directed by Grant to receive the final surrender of the defeated Confederate infantry divisions on the morning of April 12th 1865.

The morning dawned rainy and the beaten Confederates marched to the surrender grounds. As first division in the column, that of John Gordon passed, Chamberlain was so moved by emotion he ordered his soldiers to salute the defeated enemy for whose cause he had no sympathy. Chamberlain honored the defeated Rebel army by bringing his division to present arms.

Gordon, was “riding with heavy spirit and downcast face,” looked up, surveyed the scene, wheeled about on his horse, and “with profound salutation returned the gesture by lowering his saber to the toe of his boot. The Georgian then ordered each following brigade to carry arms as they passed third brigade, “honor answering honor.”

joshua_chamberlain_-_brady-handy

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Chamberlain was not just a soldier, but before the war had been Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdoin College, and a student of theology before the war. Chamberlain, a citizen soldier could not help to see the significance of the occasion. He understood that some people would criticize him for saluting the surrendered enemy.

However, Chamberlain, unlike others, understood the value of reconciliation, and at his heart was a Christian, and theologian, as well a staunch abolitionist and Unionist, who had nearly died on more than one occasion fighting the defeated Confederate Army. However, unlike many hardline politicians and ideologues, Chamberlain understood that the achievement of equality for all, the freedom, enfranchisement, and integration of African Americans into society, and true Union could be achieved unless the enemies became reconciled to one another. At that point the men of the Army of Northern Virginia knew that they were defeated and at the mercy of those who vanquished them.

Chamberlain noted that his reasons for doing what he did afterward.

“The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

The next day Robert E Lee addressed his soldiers for the last time. Lee’s final order to his loyal troops was published the day after the surrender. It was a gracious letter of thanks to men that had served their beloved commander well in the course of the three years since he assumed command of them outside Richmond in 1862.

General Order
No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. — R. E. Lee, General

Sadly, Lee failed to acknowledge his role in bringing the Confederacy to complete destruction by not telling his Commander in Chief, President Jefferson Davis that the war was lost when Atlanta fell. For all his virtues, he could not overcome his innate racism, and lack of moral courage to confront an arrogant superior that the war could not be won and the Confederacy surrender. Only Lee could have done so, Davis would not listen to anyone else, as no one had Lee’s stature and respect among Southerners. But he did not do that until his army was for all intents and purposes destroyed. If effect he continued to fight when there was no human, or Christian purpose to do so. With the fall of Atlanta he knew that there was no political, economic, diplomatic, or military reason to continue the war, but he did so anyway.

But Appomattox was the beginning of the end of the end. The war had really been lost at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, and was certainly lost when Sherman captured Atlanta and began his march across Georgia, which ensured that the Confederates would have to deal with Abraham Lincoln and not the Northern Peace Democrats or Copperheads, who were willing to let the Confederacy live than to continue a war that was being won on all fronts. Other Confederate forces continued to resist for several weeks, but with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, led by the man that nearly all Southerners saw as the embodiment of their nation the war was effectively over.

Lee had fought hard and after the war was still under the charge of treason, but he understood the significance of defeat and the necessity of moving forward as one nation. In August 1865 Lee wrote to the trustees of Washington College of which he was now President:

“I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid the restoration of peace and harmony… It is particularly incumbent upon those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.

Unfortunately, by that time, despite his remaining prejudice and failure to acknowledge the evil of the cause for which he had fought, offered words which should have been heeded by every man and woman in the former Confederacy.

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Brigadier General Ely Parker

Lee’s words, do offer a lesson for all of us in our terribly divided land need to learn regardless of or political affiliation or ideology in the midst of a global pandemic that pays no respect to the lives of anyone, that knows no border, race, creed, nation, or religion.

After he had signed the surrender document, Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp Colonel Ely Parker, was a full-blooded Seneca Indian. He stared at Parker’s dark features and said: “It is good to have one real American here.”

Parker, a man whose people had known the brutality of the White man, as well as a man who was not considered a citizen and would never gain the right to vote in his lifetime, replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.”

That afternoon Parker would receive a commission as a Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, making him the first Native American to hold that rank in the United States Army. He would later be made a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

I don’t know what Lee thought of that. His reaction is not recorded and he never wrote about it after the war, but it might have been in some way led to Lee’s letter to the trustees of Washington College. I think with our land so divided, ands that is time again that we learn the lessons so evidenced in the actions and words of Ely Parker, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain, for we are all Americans.

Sadly, I think that there is a portion of the American population who will not heed these words and will continue to agitate for policies and laws similar to those that led to the Civil War, and which those that could not reconcile defeat, and almost immediately put into place laws that made newly freed slaves, into slaves by another name again during the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. For me such behavior and attitudes are incompressible, but they are all too real, and all too present in our divided nation.

But I still maintain hope that in spite of everything that divides us, in spite of the intolerance and hatred of some, that we can overcome. I think that the magnanimity of Grant in victory, the humility of Lee in defeat, the graciousness of Chamberlain in honoring the defeated foe, and the stark bluntness of Parker, the Native American, in reminding Lee, that “we are all Americans,” is something that is worth remembering, and yes, even emulating today.

But even more so we need to remember the words of the only man whose DNA and genealogy did not make him a European transplant, the man who Lee refereed to as the only true American at Appomattox, General Ely Parker, the Native American who fought for a nation that not acknowledge him as a citizen until long after he was dead.

In the perverted, unrequited racist age of President Donald Trump we have to stop the bullshit, and take to heart the words of Ely Parker. “We are all Americans.” If we don’t get that there is no hope for our country. No amount of military or economic might can save us if we cannot understand Parker’s words, or the words of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” Really, it does not matter if our relatives were second sons of European Gentry, religious dissidents, refugees of repressive regimes, African Slaves, Asians seeking a new life in a new country, or Mexican citizens who turned on their own country to become citizens of a new Republic, men like Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican governor of El Norte and one of the First U.S. Senators from California.

Let us never forget Ely Parker’ words at Appomattox, “We are all Americans.”

Sadly, there are not just more than a few Americans, and many with no familial or other connection to the Confederacy and the South than deeply held racism who would rather see another bloody civil war because they hate the equality of Blacks, Women, immigrants, and LGBTQ Americans more than they love the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

That is why Parker’s words to Lee still matter so much and why we must never give up the fight for equality for all Americans. Likewise, whether one likes it or not, Robert E. Lee broke his sacred oath to the Constitution as a commissioned officer, and refused to free the slaves entrusted to his care by his Father in Law in 1859, who also refused to support his Confederate President’s plan to emancipate and free African American slaves who were willing to fight for the Confederacy until February 1865.

Lee the Myth is still greater than Lee the man in much of this country. Lee the man is responsible for the deaths for more Americans than the leaders of Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, or any other foreign power. He even cast aside such loyalists as George Pickett, whose division he destroyed in a suicidal attack at Gettysburg on July 3rd 1863, and then continued to damn Pickett for mistakes which were his own until the end of the war.

Both sides of my family fought for the Confederacy as officers and members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry. Most reconciled, but others didn’t, including the patriarch of my paternal side of the family. His decision ended up costing the family millions of dollars in the following years. The maternal side was smart enough to reconcile after the war and to later engage in the profoundly libertarian practice of bootlegging until the end of prohibition. I don’t know if any members of either side of my family were KKK supporters, but if they were I wouldn’t be surprised.  They lost almost all they had during the war by fighting on the wrong side and when their rebellion ended in defeat many refused to reconcile with the United States, or head the words of Robert E. Lee, and they deserved it.

But, despite his words Robert E. Lee refused to completely admit his crime of treason. He used the language of reconciliation without fully embracing it.

So for me April 9th is very personal. I have served my country for nearly 38 and a half years, and in the midst of a pandemic I continue to serve while wondering if the grim necessity of the times keep me from retiring.

That being said, I cannot abide men and women who treat the men and women that I have served with in the defense of this county as less than human or fully entitled to the rights that are mine, more to my birth and race than today than any of my inherent talents or abilities. That includes my ancestors who fought for the Confederacy on both sides of my family. Ancestors or not, they were traitors to everything that I believe in and hold dear.

As for me, principles and equality trump all forms of racism, racist ideology, and injustice, even when the President himself advocates for them. I am a Union man, despite my Southern ancestry, and I will support the rights of people my ancestors would never support, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, LTBTQ, and other racial, religious, or gender minorities.

So I am a Unionist and a continuing abolitionist when it comes to protecting and advancing the rights of those whose rights continue to be trumped by prejudice. So I am a supporter of Equal rights for African Americans, immigrants of all races, nationalities, and religions. Likewise, I am a women’s rights advocate, including their reproductive rights, and a supporter of LGBTQ people and their rights, most of which are opposed by the Evangelical Christians who I grew up with. I also will not hesitate to criticize the elected President of the United States when he pisses on the preface of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and attacks the bedrock principles of the Bill of Rights.

How can I be silent? I know that I cannot be a bystander, Even when in the midst of a pandemic these same people are not only being victimized by the Coronavirus pandemic, but by the government that should be doing it can to protect and defend the lives and livelihoods of all of us, citizens, those on the way to citizenship, or those who simply hope and long to be free by leaving their homelands to become truly free.

So I will stand fast on this anniversary of Appomattox and echo the words of Eli Parker to all, no-matter their status or unforgiving ideology that stand against them:  “Sir, we are all Americans.” Such people, who represent the most extreme and ideological pillars of the political Right and Left, may not understand this, but I certainly do.

The failure to work towards reconciliation and equality on both sides of the ideological spectrum will doom us all, and destroy the Republic and the ideals that were planted in the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, the XIII, XIV, XV, and XIX Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the end of DOMA, and the yesterday to be ratified Women’s Rights Act. The reversal of any of these achievements places us on a trail that only leads to an imperfect and imagined past which is often overplayed with myth and ideology to create a nation where diversity is the enemy, where race and religion matter more than the simple understanding that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” 

 

 

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COVID-19: Living with its Reality While Being Brave and Caring While Acknowledging our Fears

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

T.S. Elliot penned these words: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” 

The sad fact is that Drs. Birx and Fauci have been quietly trying to brace the President and many of us for reality. Despite all the falsehoods and false hopes that emanated from the mouth of the President  between January and the beginning of March they, like them or not, soldiered on when many would have quit. All the President’s  denials, delays, disinformation, claims of fake news, bragging about his success, attacking  political opponents, and demonizing real news agencies, and reporters by name did not keep them from pushing back. I am not sure, but I suspect that Vice President Pence began to trust them helped push the President into accepting reality that the numbers that will die in the United States are far beyond anything that he ever would admit. Today they admitted that 100,000 to 240,000 could die, and that with successful mitigation. The same models predict a million and a half to two and a half million deaths without “successful” mitigation efforts. Who knows what April will bring, but I don’t think most American leaders or their followers are willing to deal with the hard truth that lay before us.

What our states are now beginning to do may be too little and to late to prevent an even higher death toll. Truthfully, based on the deadliness COVID-19 has demonstrated in our country where a lot more people in the 20-50 year old bracket are falling victim than was expect, I think, though I desperately  want to be wrong, and a quarter of a million is a low estimate based on the historical tendency for Americans to not obey the rules, trust science, or the government.

The terrible thing is that now the President would consider a death toll of 100,000 a “victory.” Had the President and  administration prepared for the virus when they were warned, we would have had a chance at minimizing the death toll, like South Korea.

But here we are facing one of the most catastrophic moments in the history of our country. We have to pull together, work together, and fight this together. Political, ideological, and religious animosity has to be chucked over the rails of this ship called America if we are not to sink. As one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence said, “we either hang together or we hang separately.”

Sadly, I have the feeling that many Americans will not believe until they, their family members, and friends start dying. As C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed:

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

That my friends is the reality that we face. No matter our religion, lack thereof, or ideology may be, we are all human. Unless we are true narcissistic sociopaths, the deaths of friends and loved ones strike the very core of our innate human finiteness. They remind us that we too are mortal, and part of a community. I have friends across the religious and political spectrum, even people who disagree with me vehemently on various matters. But the death of any of them would involve grief that I cannot explain.

So now the latest COVID-19 casualty report. Worldwide there are 858,669 cases, 42,151 deaths, and 178,099 recovered. The get the death rate we do not uses the total infections. John’s Hopkins uses the total number infected, but since that number is always changing it is unreliable. Instead you have to use the total cases completed by either death or recovery, as the denominator. You divide the number of deaths by the number of completed cases. That rate is now 19% worldwide. In the United States there are now 188,530 total cases, 3,889 deaths and  7,251 people who have recovered, a 35% death rate. Of course as the minor infections recover the rate will most likely go down, to between 5 and 10%, not the 1-3% that some estimated just weeks ago. This is a killer virus, much worse than any flu. I’m not a scientist, but a historian. The great Spanish Influenza of 1918-19 killed over 600,000 Americans, and based on the latest estimates nearly 50 million deaths worldwide, and the populations, especially those living in major metropolitan cities, were far less than they are today.

John Barry, author of The Great Influenza: the Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History  wrote:

“overstate to make a point—warned, civilization could have disappeared within a few more weeks. So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lessen the panic that can alienate all within a society. Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization cannot survive that. Those in authority must retain  the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”

The lesson is that truth even in the face of unimaginable disaster and loss of life, must be told. The same is true with how to mitigate the threat. Fear is a natural response, and anyone involved in a war, which this is, is not unreasonable, especially when there is no vaccine, should demonstrate a measure of reasonable fear. General George Patton wrote words that should be absorbed by everyone facing this virus today:

“If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened.”

That means that we can be frightened, yet brave. We must continue to life life and care for others even as we use social distancing and other prevention measures.

As Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation said: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…”

Our leaders regardless if the are political, scientific, media, military, religious, or medical leaders must tell the truth, and then do the hard things in order to survive without becoming the dystopia of a world like the Mad Max films, novels like 1984, or so many examples from history and fiction.

We need leaders who tell the truth, and we need to act, despite our fears to defeat this threat. As Winston Churchill said in Britain’s darkest hour, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” our leaders regardless of party or ideology have to stop offering meaningless but comforting words, and tell the truth. If they don’t we will experience worse than we could imagine. As the English comedian Rowan Atkinson uttered in the BBC comedy series, Black Adder: “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

100,000 to 2400,000 preventable deaths is not a victory, it is a needless sacrifice of human life. Each of the dead is more than a number or name, they are human beings who leave behind parents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandchildren, friends, and coworkers. Each death leaves a hole in the heart of someone who loved and cared for them, that cannot be filled by empty words.

Until tomorrow, and with hope for the future. Please be careful out there,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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An Exponential Increase in People Killed or Infected by COVID-19


Erring on the Side of Caution 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In early January a dread came over me when I first read about the novel Coronavirus in China, and the head that the first case in the U.S. had been diagnosed in Washington State. I knew then that things would get much worse before they ever got better. But for fear of being labeled a fear monger or crazy person. At that time the threat was being downplayed except by intelligence agencies whose warnings we not heeded.

I guess it was in the fall of 2008 when I had a troubling dream. In it saw our city’s Town Center, still being built up, completely empty, shops and restaurants closed, construction sites abandoned, and trash blowing through the streets. That was in the 2008 crash with the H1N1 flu pandemic just beginning. I chalked them up to my horrible depression and PTSD, and tried to downplay them, and we did recover. But now it seems that that dream, was a portent of what is going on today. I certainly do not claim to be a prophet, nor a son of the Prophet, but now the restaurants and most shops there are closed. Construction projects appear to look like they are being prepared to shut down. Now I feel like I am living in that nightmarish dream as the novel Coronavirus 19 sweeps the world and the United States. The virus is exploding at an exponential rate and the worst is yet to come, not just the infections and deaths, but the complete disruption, and maybe collapse of an old order not seen since the end of the First World War.

Barbara Tuchman wrote something most relevant to the Trump Administration’s response to the COVID 19 threat, decades before it ever happened. However, she was writing about the men who brought Europe to destruction in 1914 and continued to work to destabilize new democracies, and even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic seek to protect their interests above all, including that of their nations and people. Tuchman 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.” 

If nothing else that is an indictment of our President, and his enablers in his party, cabinet, Congress, propaganda network, and his devoted cultists who could not tell the truth from a lie if you told them a pie shell filled with shit was an award winning chocolate pie. But on to the current situation and a bit of background.

On December 31st the Chinese Government reported the first death from nouveau Coronavirus 19, or COVID 19. By the end of January there were over 12,000 cases and 259 deaths. The first infected American arrived from China in the middle of January. When I saw that, I knew without immediate intervention by the Federal Government that the spread of the virus would eventually be exponential and devastating, not just in the illnesses and deaths, but to the worldwide economy, and eventually war. If we look at the history of the 1920s-1930s the First World War was followed by economic, political, and the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. Of course there were the civil wars and unstable governments caused by icily wars between the extremists of the Bolshevik and Fascist extremes, both seeking to destroy the political center to gain power, the brief economic upsurge brought about in the 1920s, the the Wall Street Crash of 1928 that brought about a worldwide economic depression, and a Second World War.

But now we have the Coronavirus which is sweeping across the world at a now breathtaking pace. It is growing at an exponential rate, and it seems that all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men will find it hard to put it together again.

When the COVIS-19 pandemic hit our shoes,  the American Government led by the Trump Administration paid little attention to it or downplayed its significance. It did that until the bottom began falling out of the stock markets, bond markets, and the oil market, the latter was not completely due to due to Coronavirus but the productions and price oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The Trump Administration finally labeled the situation a health emergency at the end of January, but did nothing to prepare.  Belatedly, it began to organize a response led by Vice President Pence at the end of February, but even sill the President in his speeches and tweets continued to downplay the situation as members of his political, religious, and media cult amplified his message, until a week ago.

The day I wrote my first article about Coronavirus, March 8th,  there had been almost 110,000 cases and nearly 3800 deaths. That was an increase of 98,000 cases and over 3500 deaths in just 38 daysI wrote me second article on it ten days later. By that time were nearly 198,500 cases and just shy of 8,000 deaths, 7,987 to be exact.

So in ten days there were around 100,000 new cases, and close to 4200 new deaths. As of that evening there were a total of 218,721 cases, of which 125,392 were currently active. 93,329 are closed, meaning either recovery or death. Of the closed cases, 8,983 or 10% had died. This means there were over 20,000 new cases and almost 1,000 deaths in a single night. Italy was hit hardest in the past day, over 4,200 new cases and 475 deaths.  In other European countries the numbers are spiking, and are about a week or two behind Italy in the progression of the disease.

We are now 15 days since my first article and five after my second. Since my last post the numbers have grown exponentially at a rate far faster than even last week. As of this moment in time there are 338,724 total cases of which 225,034 are active. Of the closed cases 14,687 are dead, and 99,003 have recovered. That is a 13% death rate. Since yesterday the number of cases went up by 32,440 with 1631 new deaths. See https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

The sad thing, that even where local, state or provincial, and national governments have taken steps to mitigate the the spread of the virus, only the most draconian measures have succeeded in flattening the infection and death curve. South Korea is not far behind, but more to proactive testing, and mitigation efforts. But the United States remains far behind in testing, the availability of test kits, and haphazard quarantine and social distancing and isolation measures, primarily because the Trump Administration has refused to take the leadership, and responsibility to ensure that states get the resources they need when they need them, while failing to provide  overarching policy guidance rather than by shifting blame to experts, journalists, and truth tellers, and of course China by labeling it by the xenophobic and racist term, the China Virus instead of its actual name.

Likewise the President has proclaimed that he is a wartime President but refuses to treat this as a war. He has correctly called it an unseen enemy but has refused to do the things that a real wartime President would to to stop the losses and win the war. He still, dithers, obfuscates, and blames. Instead of saying “the Buck stops here” as Harry Truman did, he passes the responsibility and deflects the blame to everyone but himself, because he claims no responsibility for anything, and makes himself the victim of others, even former allies, friends, and appointees. He is Captain Queeg on steroids, but in defense of the fictional Queeg, he had been exposed to arduous combat duties before he took command of the USS Caine. Queeg cracked under pressure and his officers failed to help him. That is not the case with President Trump, he got rid of the apolitical professionals and surrounded himself with yes men and his family. Queeg should have been so lucky.

Tomorrows numbers will be worse, and the Trump Administration ignored warnings about COVID 19 by intelligence experts as early as January. Until the stock, bond, and oil markets began to collapse at the beginning of March, they did nothing, except deny, deflect, and minimize what would happen. Once the economy began to crash the Administration began to take actions, most not really effective in stopping the spread of the virus, but actions. Sadly, the President could give a serious and even Presidential Statement, and then go back to undercut everything he said with his Un constrained Tweets.

Bank of America has already stated that the United States is now in a recession. Other economists say that we are headed for an economic depression. Depressions are not good, not just for the economy, but for national security, in the midst of the Great Depression, Japan invade Manchuria in 1931, and China in 1936. Italy attack and conquered Ethiopia in 1935-1936, even as Hitler’s Germany began a startling number of bloodless conquests in the 1930s , without much reaction from from democracies mired in economic crisis and political divisions were unable to respond.

We have now reached that kind of watershed in our time. This will get far worse, in so many ways before it gets better. So until this is over, please err on the sid e of caution. Don’t take unnecessary risks, knowing that asymptotic carriers of the virus can spread it without you knowing it, and demand that our elected leaders at all levels of government take real actions to slow and eventually stop the advance of the virus, take action to help all of our population, but especially the millions losing their jobs in the service industries, And the small business and restaurant chains that are being forced to close due to the virus. This is a time for bold actions, not to bail out the corporate elites and oligarchs, but to help our citizens and the companies that they work for survive.

For me this isn’t about politics or the latest money, but for the survival of us as a people and nation who still hold to the belief of the Founders in the Declaration “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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