Tag Archives: hannah arendt

Meme Wars: The Death of Facts, Reason, American Political Discourse and Democracy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been thinking about a political meme that I saw posted on Facebook last week and I have been thinking about the words of the most erudite thinkers and reading about how it reflects the death of American political discourse. The meme embodied the worst of what is happening in American politics and thought. While it was a “pro-Trump” meme I hate to admit that I have seen mirror images of it from the political left.

Memes are an incredible form of propaganda. They often use powerfully emotional images and combine them with a one sided barrage of half-truths and lies about their side and their political opponent. In this particular meme Republicans were contrasted with Democrats.

It listed what Republicans are supposedly for on one side with the Democratic response on the other. Republicans in this meme were to “Protect America” “Fight Terrorism” “Reduce Tax Burdens” “Reduce Regulations” “Drain the Swamp” and “Make America Great Again.” The Democrats only response was “Hate Trump.” Such propaganda noted American philosopher Eric Hoffer “does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” It bypasses the cognitive, intellectual, moral, and ethical components that make us responsible citizens who care about our country, its people and the world in favor of a desert of alternative truths or as they are better known, lies.
The Republican beliefs in this meme were simply age GOP talking points that bear little resemblance to what the GOP does when it has Senate and House majorities as well as the White House, now so more than ever. If actions speak louder than words these were farcical, a half-truth, wrapped in a lie, ensconced in myth. To say that what Democrats believe can be reduced to “Hate Trump” misses the whole point of the American political system and it is a statement that mimics totalitarian propaganda which is then reinforced daily by White House spokesmen, Cabinet members, legislators, Fox News hosts and the Right Wing media machine, thousands of supposedly Bible believing Christian pastors, and quite often from the President himself.

But it is possible dissent from the policies and actions of a President and still to be a patriot. It is patriotic to stand for the rule of law, human rights, the Constitution, to fight terrorism of all kinds (not just Islamic), to defend the country and not depart from the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the protections of the Constitution (including the separation of powers). What has happened in the modern GOP is that personal loyalty to a President who demands it is considered the standard by which patriotism is judged even as he tramples the Constitution and defies the ideals, norms and traditions that made the American system of government that people around the world admired and brought so many persecuted people to our shores. Honestly that includes most of our ancestors.

But in the meme world facts do not matter so long as they support the system of those that promote the propaganda contained in them. Hannah Arendt wrote that the “True goal of totalitarian propaganda is not persuasion, but organization of the polity. … What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.”

That is why memes are so important to propaganda. Adolf Hitler was a master of understanding that art of manipulation through propaganda. He wrote in Mein Kampf:

“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”

That is why these talking points have been harped on for decades by the GOP, its media, and religious allies. In the GOP’s meme propaganda the Democrats as well as independent liberals or progressives are not fellow Americans who simply disagree on policy but an enemy to be destroyed. Admittedly there are left-wing memes that are no better intellectually or morally than those on the right that make me cringe. Regardless of their political bias, political memes are quite truthfully described as propaganda and unless they are truly political satire, I refuse to post them on any of my social media accounts.

To want our nation to live up to its ideals is patriotic. To want our leaders to embody those ideals and to expand them is likewise patriotic. To speak out when they are trampled and decide to resist or dissent within the bounds of the Constitution and reason is also in the end patriotic. It is American. For a side, in this case a conservative activist group to use propaganda to demonize its opponents shows that they have become as intellectually and morally bankrupt as the German conservatives who allied themselves with Hitler as Germany slid into totalitarianism.

The meme culture is a spin-off of social media which in large part is dependent on what is shown on television since many people have forgotten how to read and are susceptible to belief anything lie and reject inconvenient facts if they do not line up with the consistency of the system and its political propaganda . On has to pull themselves out of the digital culture and withdraw from the endless barrage of propaganda being sold as news on television and read. We must rediscover truth and facts written with the eloquence of the great authors and orators, otherwise we will see our Republic die, and it won’t be because of a foreign enemy. It will be our own damned fault.

It is absolutely essential that we return to reading the classics, reading history, as well the great writings of the great statesmen and philosophers and throw the memes in the digital garbage can because the meme political culture is based on anything but facts and anything but truth. Those who propagate memes cultivate a culture of unreason, and a political culture in which truth does not matter. Timothy Snyder wrote: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”

The political meme culture is a big part of the problem.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under News and current events, Political Commentary

A Sense of Foreboding and a Determination to Fight

img_3414

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Hannah Arendt wrote: “When evil is allowed to compete with good, evil has an emotional populist appeal that wins out unless good men and women stand as a vanguard against abuse.

She was right. We are seeing a populist appeal that is embracing evil and it is happening before our very eyes.

I cannot shake the deep sense of foreboding I have regarding the country and the world after President Trump’s repeated attacks on NATO, his shredding of the Paris Climate accord, and the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula are enough to concern any right thinking person. Likewise, the swirl of allegations concerning what appears to be treasonous activities by his closest advisers and his apparent attempts to have them covered up by the FBI and various intelligence agencies. There is something very wrong going on and it almost feels that I can see the disaster unfolding before it happens.

I am not the only one to notice, leading conservative writers, foreign policy experts, and constitutional scholars have pointed out the same things that I have been saying for over a year. I do try to be positive and to believe that things will work out for the best, but the more I observe the more my confidence in our leaders and for that purpose many of our people to do the right thing is diminished.

That being said I do not give in to the feelings of foreboding or intend give up without a fight. I want my country to live up to its ideals, I am concerned about the real world, our alliances, our environment, and the real threat to freedom.  I believe in a particular universal ideal enunciated in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that All men are created equal, and as such that I must continually stand for what is right, what is true, and what is enduring.

I am worried about our democracy and I agree with Timothy Snyder who wrote:

“Democracy failed in Europe in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, and it is failing not only in much of Europe but in many parts of the world today. It is that history and experience that reveals to us the dark range of our possible futures. A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”  

It can happen here, and if we are patriots and not simply nationalists we must stand for principle and work for a new birth of freedom even as it seems that freedom itself is in danger. So as I write about some of the notable events of our history that we commemorate over the coming days please know that I take inspiration from them as I hope you will.  We must stand.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

The Politics of National Destruction 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

Leave a comment

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

The Power of the Lie: Propaganda and Undying Belief in the Leader


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After a long day of travel and some intitial meetings at my denominational chaplain training symposium I settled back into my hotel, contemplating some of the events of the past week and reflected on Hannah Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism which I finished reading this week. It is a very hard read because each sentence, each paragraph, and each page requires one to think about history, philosophy, ethics, religion, and politics. In fact, if a reader is lacking in these disciplines they will not fully appreciate both the message and the timeliness of this book, which was published over sixty years ago. Sadly, the state of our educational system means that even many college educated people, whose education has prepared them for the workplace but unable to think critically would have trouble appreciating Arendt’s words. 

With us now at President Trump’s 100 day point, in which he has failed to accomplish any for his promises and according to his own words did not realize hard difficult being the President would be, it is important to reflect on the present and the past, to compare, contrast, and learn lessons. There are many to learn, but I think the most important is the power of lies and propaganda in the minds of the President’s most loyal supporters, Evangelical Christians. He won over 80% of the Evangelical vote, and in the most recent opinion polls Evangelicals remain the President’s most loyal followers, and are more likely to believe his most demonstrably verifiable falsehoods than anyone, despite the fact that the President in his actions and words mocks the heart of the Christian faith on a daily basis even while chumming the water with new promises designed to keep Evangelicals in his camp. Trump has successfully co-opted Evangelicals using the same “us against them” language that the preachers of the supposedly Christian Right and their political allies in the GOP have been using for forty years. 

Arendt repeatedly addressed the subject of followers who support leaders that do not have their interests at heart. She noted:

“The obvious contradiction between a mass organization and an exclusive society, which alone can be trusted to keep a secret, is of no importance compared with the fact that the very structure of secret and conspiratory societies could translate the totalitarian ideological dichotomy—the blind hostility of the masses against the existing world regardless of its divergences and differences—into an organizational principle. From the viewpoint of an organization which functions according to the principle that whoever is not included is excluded, whoever is not with me is against me, the world at large loses all the nuances, differentiations, and pluralistic aspects which had in any event become confusing and unbearable to the masses who had lost their place and their orientation in it.” 

The apocalyptic worldview of Evangelicals, shaped by decades of propaganda claiming that Christians were being persecuted, and the mythology promoted by Tim LaHaye’s thirteen best selling novels of the Left Behind series have created a base that is willing to believe every conspiracy theory imaginable. As Arendt wrote: 

“The claim inherent in totalitarian organization is that everything outside the movement is “dying,” a claim which is drastically realized under the murderous conditions of totalitarian rule, but which even in the prepower stage appears plausible to the masses who escape from disintegration and disorientation into the fictitious home of the movement. Totalitarian movements have proved time and again that they can command the same total loyalty in life and death which had been the prerogative of secret and conspiratory societies.” 

Many Americans, and not just Conservatives and Evangelicals, but people on the Left as well have become both gullible and cynical, the way some on the Left threw Hillary Clinton under the bus based on now discredited conspiracy theories, and who were in large part to blame for her defeat is prima facia evidence. But this trait is particularly strong in Evangelicals and in Evangelical culture. I know this because I grew up in it and worked for a televangelist in seminary some 25 years ago who later jumped in big on the Trump train. 


It is easy to be taken in by such propaganda. William Shirer, an American newspaper and radio correspondent who spent eight years in Nazi Germany wrote: 

“I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda.” 

I lived that in Evangelicalism as well as in conservative Anglicanism but escaped it. But the fact is, that for decades the Conservative movement and in particular conservative Evangelicalism have lived in the cloud-cuckoo-world of propaganda and conspiracy theories promoted by unsavory radio and television commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Bill O’Reilly and hundreds more like them, as well as their own politically oriented preachers like Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, James Robison and thousands of others. 

Arendt wrote: 

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

That my friends is what those who stand aghast at the deliberate falsifications of the Trump administration are fighting against. So anyway. Enough for now. I hope that I have time to follow this up tomorrow as I head home. Until then. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, ministry, News and current events, Political Commentary

Living an Adventure: The Importance of Travel


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Mark Twain noted: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I’ll be traveling this weekend, nothing really to write home about, just a quick trip to Houston for my denominational Chaplain training symposium. But that being said it gives me an opportunity to share a couple of thoughts about the importance of travel and getting out of one’s comfort zone. The fact is that two-thirds of Americans do not have a passport, and most have never ventured out of the country, many having seldom left the state or region that they are from.

I’m not one of them. I have visited much of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and lived as a child in the Philippines and as an adult in Europe. At an early age I was blessed to be a Navy brat and to live in a number of places and truthfully when my dad retired from the Navy I was upset because that adventure of moving and traveling was ending. Of course as an adult I have been in the military for nearly 36 years, and continued live that adventure and to satisfy my wanderlust. I really cannot imagine what it would be like not to travel and not to experience the world in its fullness.

Likewise, I can fully agree with Twain’s words, for as one travels, as one meets other people, and experiences different cultures it expands the mind and I think the heart as well. Like Hannah Arendt I find that living abroad is joyful and easy, she wrote: “Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Travel

Infallibility, Narcissism, and Paranoia

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again  just a short thought to ponder. Hannah Arendt wrote: “The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error.”

This statement is undeniably true. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, the Ayatollahs, and Pol Pot are just some examples. More troubling is that such personalities are not absent today, Vladimir Putin, Marianne LePen, and our own President display this tendency, and their most devoted followers embrace it as well.

In the case of President Trump, presidential power means never having to say your sorry, or made a mistake. Failures are blamed on others, Congressional leaders, former President’s Obama and Bush, journalists, and even advisors who have outlasted their usefulness, case in point, Michael Flynn.

The inability to admit error is dangerous, but it also points to other potentially severe psychological issues. It is one of the characteristics of a paranoid personality, as well as a narcissistic personality. Richard Hofstadter wrote:

“The idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

Likewise, even if those characteristics do not reach the point of becoming an actual psychological disorder, they can be severe enough to impair sound judgment as a leader, and lead to potentially terrible decisions. History shows us this all too often. These kinds of leaders see the world as a threatening place, full of enemies, real and imagined. The destruction of their enemies is of the first importance to such leaders, even when it is detrimental to the nations that they lead.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under History, leadership, Political Commentary

Fragile and Unpredictable: Auschwitz and Human Behavior in the Crisis

Auschwitz Staff at Play 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his book Auschwitz: A New History, Laurence Rees noted something that is important about how human beings act in crisis. After interviewing many of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders who were at Auschwitz and other parts of the Nazi death machine he wrote this:

“…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.”

I think that it is a comment worth reflection. One of the things that Rees explored was how people who in one situation can be the best of neighbors, the most conscientious and ethical of businessmen, the most dedicated civil servants can seemingly become something totally different when placed in situations that test who they are.

Selecting those to Die 

This is one of the scary things about human nature itself, while there were many people who were sadistic and enjoyed the evil that they did, there were many more who could not decide to be good or evil, instead they went with the flow and took the path of least resistance. Hannah Arendt wrote of Adolf Eichmann, who was the instrument of destruction for much the Jewish population of Europe:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.” 

In times of great change, in times of crisis, in times of uncertainty demagogues manipulate people through fear, particularly fear of the other, both the other within their society, and those far away. When they do this they dehumanize people who seem different from us, be it in their race, color, religion, politics, gender, or sexual identity. When they succeed in doing this, it is the ordinary people who turn the other way, or collaborate in the persecution of the victims.

We are in a precarious situation and it would not take much for our nation to slide into a totalitarian dictatorship, and if the circumstance were right, if the crisis large enough, most people would probably surrender their freedom for the supposed security offered by a dictator. As Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

That is why we must not only understand history, but at the same time we must be determined to recognize how it informs us today, and how we can prevent such things from ever happening again.

That’s all for today,

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under ethics, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, nazi germany, Political Commentary