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Dealing With “Christian” Political Extremists: My Recent Experience

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I wrote about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his newly formed Religious Tyranny Task Force. The goal of that task force is to make sure that white conservative Christians can impose their beliefs on other and suffer no recriminations from discriminating against Gays and others that they do not want to serve or care for, even if their religious rights trump the civil rights of others. It is perhaps one of the most incestuous and dangerous displays of marriage of the Church and the police power of the state in the history of the United States.

Likewise, last month I wrote an article about having been accused by a chapel congregation member of conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt towards the President of the United States. I wrote the article after I was cleared of the charges during the preliminary inquiry. But it left me with many questions about the people of my congregation; questions that I have been wrestling for the better part of the month.

Since I am the senior supervisory chaplain on my base and come from a tiny denomination of the Old Catholic tradition that is stuck in the middle between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism I am an odd fit. My denomination is orthodox in its theology of God and Christ but very much a part of the the understandings of the Protestant Social Gospel of the early 1900s, the social teachings that came out of the Roman Catholic Church during Vatican II, and the Civil Rights Movement. I am also informed by being a trained historian.  This includes having a strong understanding of influence of the early Baptists in the United States on religious liberty as it came to be written into the Bill of Rights. The Baptists of that period were highly persecuted, in Europe and in the North American colonies by state churches. As a result they were much more progressive and tolerant of the rights of all religious minorities and even non-believers.

These men included Roger Williams who founded the colony of Rhode Island as a colony with no state religion and Virginia Baptist John Leland who was the inspiration for James Madison drafting the Bill of Rights.

I do my best to support the congregation and my junior chaplains regardless of their theological beliefs or political viewpoints. As such I try to allow my junior chaplains the chance to do good by pastoring the congregation while I support by them substituting every four to six weeks so they can get a full weekend off once in a while. In fact my policy is that I will not police their sermon content or how they do ministry so long as they care about the people, are not abusive, do not violate the rights of others, or commit crimes. So if a congregation member were to complain to me about their sermon I would tell that congregant to talk to them and if they could not work it out to contact that chaplains church or religious organization. I cannot police the beliefs

Since the accusations were leveled and I was told that I was exonerated I have been thinking of how next to approach the congregation, and today I got a copy of the investigation. I was heartened by some of the statements given by members of the congregation, while others troubled me. In the investigation was a copy of the letter the complainant sent to my commander. The difference between his letter and even the even the most prejudiced other congregant was amazing for even those somewhat critical of the sermon admitted their prejudices and gave me some benefit of doubt. In fact his letter was over the top and in opposition to what everyone of the others said that the investigating officer decided not to get a statement from him. But I could never believe that someone could make up such venomous lies in an attempt to destroy my name, reputation and career in such a despicable manner.

My review of the investigation and the statements has made me even more concerned about going before the congregation again. Knowing the attitudes of many it feels like by doing so I will be exposing myself to other charges from people who are little different than the Gestapo, Stasi, and KGB informants who routinely denounced priests and pastors. Sadly, with the Justice Department now behind them such people will have free reign to denounce people simply based on their often quite shallow and narrow theological understandings which are far more informed by their right wing politics than by Scripture, Tradition, or Reason.

So in the next few weeks I have a decision to make on how I will deal with this. I have a few ideas and I discuss them with my Protestant pastors who are much more conservative than me are incredibly supportive. I also am thinking and praying about what to do. Whatever I do I will script my remarks and have at least one of my other chaplains in attendance. I may even record it because I don’t want to give any of these Trump cultists to make up anything that cannot be refuted.

The sad thing is that I even have to be concerned about this. I never in a million years could have imagined being denounced by retired military officer for my sermon content. That gives me pause and frankly makes me very concerned. The experience has embittered me.  Don’t get me wrong. There are a few people in the congregation who have stood behind me and encouraged me, but most have either turned their backs on me or remained bystanders.

So I ask for your prayers, thoughts, encouragement, or wisdom in what I should do next. I am struggling with anger while trying to love and forgive the people who hurt me that God still loves and who Christ died to save.

However, there is one thing that I do know. It is something that both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood. Dr. King said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  While Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

So I know I cannot remain silent because what is happening in the church in the United States not to mention the country is a manifestation of evil.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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The Ring-Bolt to the Chain of Our Nation’s Destiny: The Declaration of Independence at 242 Years

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is July 4th and the 241st anniversary of the declaration by the leaders of 13 colonies of their independence from Britain and the founding on a new nation. It was a nation founded on a principle of the Enlightenment, the principle that all men are created equal, and as their Declaration of Independence noted that as such are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Seventy-six years later the darkness of 1852 not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act, it would be Frederick Douglass, the foremost Black abolitionist leader and himself an escaped slave would speak. The laws dictated that Northerners had to cooperate in the recapture and re-enslavement of blacks residing in their own states, regardless of their own state and local laws. While the Southern majority that crafted these laws always played the part of the aggrieved minority whose “states rights” were being threatened. But the reverse was true, with their majorities in the House and Senate which also included some Northern Congressmen and Senators, an always compliant White House, and a majority on the Supreme Court the Southerners used the threat of secession and civil war to enforce their mandates on the Free States.

On July 5th 1852 Douglass spoke these words these words to people who at the time were refused citizenship and who were enslaved:

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

Douglass understood this far better than many Americans in the South or the North. It would take a great and bloody war for most Americans to realize just how important the Declaration was to the destiny of the nation.  It would take far longer for the principle of an ever expanding understanding of liberty that included Blacks who were considered in law and statute as less than fully human.

One of the most notable of the apologists for White Supremacy was George Fitzhugh, a major Southern slaveholder and apologist for not only slavery but the inequality of poor whites and women. Fitzhugh spoke for many when he wrote against the principles of the Declaration:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.

Fitzhugh also wrote:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.

A greater contrast of views regarding the Declaration is hard to be found. Abraham Lincoln would say about the contrasting views of liberty at a speech in Baltimore on April 18th 1864:

“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names–liberty and tyranny.” 

Unfortunately these starkly contrasting views of liberty are still on display today. The President called Mexican and Central American refugees an “infestation” using a word that would to describe rats, insects or other disease carrying species. Members of his administration, Republican Congressmen and State Representatives, and members of various “conservative” media outlets, including their allies in the Alt-Right use the same language as Fitzhugh to declare for the superiority of the White race, to dehumanize Blacks, Mexicans, Arabs, and various dark skinned Asians and argue that darker skinned people are less than human and not entitled to liberty, equality and justice. A constant barrage of what quite literally amounts to state sponsored propaganda demonizes minorities, women, gays, the media, long term allies and alliances, and any potential political opponent.

Our Republic, its institutions and our freedom hinge on what Douglass called “the rig-bolt to the chains of our nation’s destiny,” and its principles “saving principles.” We must be dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal” or submit to tyranny.

The proposition in the Declaration that all men are created equal is essential to understanding or appreciating liberty. If we view others as below us, as even less than human then we cannot say that we believe in liberty. If we decide to limit the right of citizens to speak out because of their color, their national origin, their race, their religion, their gender, or sexual identity then we are not for liberty, we are no better than George Fitzhugh or others, even the Nazis, who enslaved, imprisoned, and exterminated others in the name of their power, and their right.

If our concept of liberty is so limited by our ideology that we cannot accept others having it or being equal to us then we stand against the very proposition that the United States was founded and we should bury the American experiment and stop lying about a proposition that we no longer believe in. The eminent American jurist wrote these words, which for me are like the Declaration, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech are secular scripture that are sacred to my understanding of being an American, and something that I will never yield. Judge Hand said:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. 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 that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

With that my friends I wish you a happy Independence Day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Preach the Truth: Silence in the Face of Evil is Itself Evil, Not to Speak is to Speak, Not to Act is to Act

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We live in an unsettled world where almost everything that we had grown to accept as normal is being upended including basic understandings of societal responsibility and decency. Edward R. Murrow said in the days of the Red Scare and McCarthy hearings “that we are living in an age of confusion – a lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria.”

What is morally abhorrent is now promoted by many Evangelical and Catholic Christians as being obedient to God by being obedient to the state which is the same as being obedient to President Trump. To them the State is Trump and Trump is the State, therefore the ease in which they invoke scriptures out of context in the manner of the Nazis and others who oppressed people who were deemed to be inferior according to race, ethnicity, religion, or political belief.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Yes, this does matter. It is a stain upon our nation, but even more for the Christian it is a profound witness against Jesus Christ, and a stain upon his Church. If those who profess the name of Christ cannot stand in the face of evil then what use are we? Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted: Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Over the course of my life I have learned the terrible cost to one’s soul of remaining silent in the face of injustice. At this stage of my life I cannot do anything but tell the truth and be faithful to my baptismal, confirmation, and ordination vows. Likewise I cannot betray my oath to the Constitution. One place I can do this is in the pulpit and as I recall the First Amendment still applies to the pulpit even when one serves in the military.

So I today I preached in my chapel to give my Protestant pastor the day off. The text was the epistle lesson from the lectionary, 2nd Corinthians 5:6-17, which I extended to verse 20. The message was that the call to be ambassadors of Christ and his love for humanity is contrary to the support of the actions of the Trump Administration; especially and most notoriously the imprisonment of tens of thousands of would be immigrants seeking asylum in our country and the forced separation of thousands of children from their families.

The sermon became very political as I tied the words of scripture to the responsibilities of Christians as it applies to what is going on in this country. I condemned the complicity of Christians in the gross injustices being inflicted to immigrants and racial and religious minorities. I quoted Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, Dr. King, Niemoller and Sophie Scholl to condemn the actions of the Trump administration. I then quoted the President’s words of last month where he called immigrants animals and Stephen Miller’s words how the policy to forcibly separate children from their families being a simple decision. I mentioned that once you determined that any group of people were less than human such decisions were indeed simple.

I quoted pastor Robert Jeffress and his support for Trump and opposition to any candidate who would base his Presidency on the principles of the Sermon on the Mount. I compared his words to the words of Reichsbischof Muller who I think is a comparable figure about the Jews before Hitler came to power.

I also said you cannot claim to be a pro-life Christian if you support ripping children from their parents and locking them in cages 22 hours a day to use them as a “bargaining chip” as President Trump did this week and I did not let up. I told the congregation that this Priest and Chaplain would pray for the victims of this administration’s policies and speak out against them.

During the sermon something happened that has never happened when I preached, about half a dozen people walked out. When you are preaching something After the service a number of other people, previously friendly were cold to me. But a number number of men, all African American Marine Corps or Navy retirees thanked me and wanted more of the history that I preached about.

Later I got a text from one of my Chaplains who told me: “Word on the street is that you brought it this morning, I quote “He raised his voice and it was if God was speaking” and they were squirming in their seats (in that good uncomfortable way).”

Anyway, pray for me, you never know when one of the disgruntled parishioners complains to commanding officers or even the media. But all that being said I will speak the truth.  Bonhoeffer wrote:

“For the tyrannical despiser of humanity, popularity is a sign of the greatest love for humanity. He hides his profound distrust of all people behind the stolen words of true community. While he declares himself before the masses to be one of them, he praises himself with repulse vanity and despises the rights of every individual. He considers the people stupid, and they become stupid; he considers them weak, and they become weak; he considers them criminal, and they become criminal. His most holy seriousness is frivolous play; his conventional protestations of solicitude for people are bare-faced cynicism. In  his deep contempt for humanity, the more he seeks the favor of those he despises, the more certainty he arouses the masses to declare him a god…”

Those words were written by Bonhoeffer about Hitler, but they can easily be applied to our President today and the actions of his administration and the acquiescence of his supporters.

Dr. King said “On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”

Conscience demands that the truth be told. It is now more important than every to tell the truth from every promontory, from every pedestal, from every pulpit until it is heard throughout the entire land.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“We’ve Got Some Difficult Days Ahead…” The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at 50 Years

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fifty years ago today a bullet killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while he was in Memphis supporting Sanitation Workers who were being subjected to unsafe working conditions without the same rights, protections, pay, or benefits of white Sanitation workers. As always there were threats on King’s life and he knew that he was a target. The night before his assassination Dr. King spoke at Mason Temple the international headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, the largest historically Black denomination in the United States.

That speech is now known as the “I have been to the mountaintop” speech. Dr. King had flown into Memphis earlier in the day, on a flight delayed by a bomb threat. King like many Civil Rights leaders of his day lived under the constant threat of physical violence, intimidation and assassination. After the heady days of the great march in Washington and the I Have a Dream speech and the award of the Nobel Prize his positions on social and economic justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War had made him a pariah of sorts, even in the Black community. He had place himself in the gunsights of his opponents as he pressed on in spite of the opposition.

Life was precious to him, but he like many others understood that it could be cut short at any moment for simply speaking the truth about racial discrimination, prejudice and violence. King himself had been accosted at different times and spent time in jail for “breaking” laws that enforced and enabled institutions and individuals to discriminate against Blacks with no consequences whatsoever. He was called a radical, a Communist and anti-American by those that opposed any changes to the status quo. He knew that his life was always in danger.

In that speech Dr. King seemed to understand the threat but he was determined to go on and to do God’s will. Dr. King understood that the Christian faith required more than intellectual assent to a doctrine. He understood the words of the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer: We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

At Mason Temple Dr King proclaimed:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats…or talk about the threats that were out… What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. but it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over.and I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I am happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I am not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of The Lord.”

It was April 4th 1968. The United States was divided by the Vietnam War and numerous social crises. President Lyndon Johnson had just done the unthinkable, he had announced that he was withdrawing from his reelection bid. In many places despite the integration of the Armed Forces, Baseball, the repeal of many Jim Crow laws and the passage of the 1964 Voter’s Rights Act African Americans still felt the sting of individual and institutional racial prejudice. In Vietnam the effects of the Tet Offensive still lingered even as American cities burned.

His speech at Mason Temple was almost prophetic in its message. The words of the thirty-nine year old Baptist Preacher from Atlanta echoed through the sanctuary of the church to the applause of those present even as a heavy spring thunderstorm rocked the city.

The following evening, King with a number of other Civil Rights leaders including Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young were at the Lorraine Motel, where King often stayed. King was standing on the balcony outside of his room, Room 306 when at 6:01 PM he was cut down and mortally wounded by a single shot fired from a Remington 760 rifle. The bullet struck him in the right cheek, traveled down his spine and severed his jugular vein and several major arteries before it came to rest in his shoulder. He still had a heartbeat when the ambulance arrived and on his arrival at St Joseph’s Hospital. Efforts to revive him by opening his chest and attempting cardiac massage were unsuccessful and at 7:05 PM Dr King was pronounced dead.

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Witnesses reported a man named James Earl Ray fleeing the area after the shooting. The Remington rifle and a pair of binoculars with Ray’s fingerprints were found at the scene. Ray was apprehended at London’s Heathrow Airport two months later. Ray was tried and convicted of Dr King’s murder. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison and died in 1998. During the trial Ray recanted his confession, implicated an unknown man named “Raul” who he had supposedly met in Montreal as being involved and said that “he personally did not kill” Dr King hinting at a conspiracy. Ray plead guilty to avoid the death penalty.

Other theories were postulated about the murder and Lloyd Jowers who owned a restaurant across from the Lorraine Motel claimed in a 1993 interview that the US Government and the Mafia were complicit in the killing, that Ray was a scapegoat and that Memphis Police Lieutenant Earl Clark was the shooter.

Jowers’ story is disputed but it was believed by King’s widow Coretta Scott King.  She filed a wrongful death lawsuit in which a jury found that Jowers and others including government agencies were guilty of the plot to kill Dr King on December 8th 1998. Though Jowers’ story was contradicted by much of his own testimony during the trial the results have caused a divide in who experts believe killed Dr King. As for the King family they reconciled with Ray before his death.

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Regardless of who killed Dr King the result was a shock to much of the nation and in many places riots broke out despite the pleadings of most Civil Rights leaders to continue in Dr King’s path of non-violence.

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Senator Robert F Kennedy, then running for the Democratic Party nomination for President learned of Dr King’s shooting just before flying to Indianapolis for a campaign rally. On his arrival he learned of Dr King’s death. Warned by police that he could be in danger he made an impromptu speech from the back of a flat bed truck. The speech was short, under 5 minutes but its message is applicable even today.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some — some very sad news for all of you — Could you lower those signs, please? — I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Thank you very much.”

Two months later Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded by Sirhan Sirhan after winning the California Primary.

The loss of Dr King and later Senator Kennedy was profound. So tonight take the time to remember and pray that we all will be able to go to the mountain and see the promised land where in a more perfect Union we will heal the wounds that so divide our country.

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Today the rights that Dr. King and so many others fought for dating back to the days of Frederick Douglass are being rolled back at the local, state and Federal level. The administration of President Trump and Republican led statehouses have been working overtime to silence dissent, discredit opposition, and through unjust laws and policies upend the civil rights not only of Blacks, but other people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, and Muslims.

Dr. King noted the night before he was slain that “we’ve got some difficult days ahead” but as he told his staff in January 1968 “Hope is the final refusal to give up.”

Peace

Padre Stave+

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Courage and Character: The Buffalo Soldier & the Red Tail: Generals Benjamin O. Davis and Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

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Brigadier General Benjamin O Davis in France 1944

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his I Have a Dream speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave all of us a vision of what can and in spite of what I see going on today will be the future of the people of this country:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

American History would not be the same without the life, work and prophetic ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was born in a time when most of the country was segregated when “separate by equal” was simply façade to cover the lie that in no way did African Americans have equal rights or privileges in the United States.

Dr King was born less than 60 years after the secession of the Southern states from the Union and the beginning of the American Civil War. Though that blood conflict had freed the slaves it had not freed African Americans from prejudice, violence and discrimination.  When Dr. King began his ministry and was thrust upon the national stage as the strongest voice for equal rights and protections for blacks the discrimination and violence directed towards blacks was a very real and present reality in much of the United States.

However there were cracks beginning to appear in the great wall of segregation in the years preceding Dr. King’s ascent to leadership as the moral voice of the country in the matter of racial equality. In baseball Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in Major League Baseball opening a door for others who would become legends of the game as well as help white America begin its slow acceptance of blacks in sports and the workplace.

Likewise the contributions of a father and son Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. were advancing the cause of blacks in the military which eventually led to the desegregation of the military in 1948.  The impact of these two men cannot be underestimated for they were trailblazers who by their lives, professionalism and character blazed a trail for African Americans in the military as well as society.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was a student at Howard University when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor.  He volunteered for service and was commissioned as a temporary 1st Lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry. He was mustered out of service in 1899 but enlisted as a private in the 9th United States Cavalry one of the original Buffalo Soldiers regiments.  He enlisted as the unit clerk of I troop of 3rd Squadron and was promoted to be the squadron Sergeant Major.

Davis was commissioned while the unit was deployed to the Philippines and assigned to the 10th Cavalry.  He was assigned in various positions throughout his career including command, staff and instruction duties including as Professor of Military Science and Tactics in various ROTC programs.  He reached the rank of rank of temporary Lieutenant Colonel and Squadron Commander of 3rd and later 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry from 1917-1920 in the Philippines before reverting to the rank of Captain on his return as part of the post World War I reduction in force.

Davis continued to serve during the inter-war years and assumed command of the 369th Infantry Regiment New York National Guard in 1938. He was promoted to Brigadier General on 25 October 1940 becoming the first African American elevated to that rank in the United States Army and was assigned as Commander 4th Brigade 2nd Cavalry Division. He later served in various staff positions at the War Department and in France and was instrumental in the integration of the U.S. Military. He retired after 50 years service in 1948 in a public ceremony with President Harry S. Truman presiding. He was a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission from 1953-1961 and died in 1970.

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Colonel Davis with his son Cadet Benjamin O Davis Jr.

His son Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was appointed to West Point in 1932.  He graduated and was commissioned in 1936 graduating 35 out of 278, the fourth African American graduate of West Point. During his time at the Academy most of his classmates shunned him and he never had a roommate.  Despite this he maintained a dogged determination to succeed.  The Academy yearbook made this comment about him:

“The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.”

He was denied entrance to the Army Air Corps because of his race and assigned to the Infantry first to the all lack 24th Infantry Regiment at Ft Benning where he was not allowed in the Officers Club due to his race. Upon his commissioning the Regular Army had just 2 African American Line Officers, 2nd Lieutenant Davis and his father Colonel Davis.

After completion of Infantry School he was assigned as an instructor of Military Science and Tactics and the Tuskegee Institute.  In 1941 the Roosevelt Administration moved to create a black flying unit and Captain Davis was assigned to the first black class at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and in March 1942 one his wings as one of the first 5 African Americans to complete flight training.

In July 1942 he was assigned as Commanding Officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron which served in North Africa and Sicily flying Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. He was recalled to the United States in September 1943 to command the 332ndFighter Group. However some senior officers attempted to prevent other black squadrons from serving in combat alleging that the 99th had performed poorly in combat. Davis defended his squadron and General George Marshall ordered an inquiry which showed that the 99th was comparable to white squadrons in combat and during a 2 day period over the Anzio beachhead the pilots of the 99thshot down 12 German aircraft.

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Colonel Benjamin O Davis Jr (left) with one of his Tuskegee Airmen

Davis took the 332nd to Italy where they transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts and in July 1944 to the P-51 Mustang which were marked with a signature red tail. During the war, the units commanded by Davis flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 111 enemy planes, and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground at a cost of 66 of their own planes.

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Their record against the Luftwaffe was outstanding and their protection of the bombers that they escorted was superb with very few bombers lost while escorted by them men that the Luftwaffe nicknamed the Schwarze Vogelmenschen and the Allies the Red-Tailed Angels or simply the Redtails. Davis led his Tuskegee Airmen to glory in the war and their performance in combat helped break the color barrier in the U.S. Military which was ended in 1948 when President Truman signed an executive order to end the segregation of the military. Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan and the Air Force was the first of the services to fully desegregate.

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Lieutenant General Benjamin O Davis Jr

Colonel Davis transitioned to jets and let the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing against Chinese Communist MIGs in the Korean War.  He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954 and served in numerous command and staff positions. He retired in 1970 with the rank of Lieutenant General and was advanced to General while retired by President Clinton in 1998.  He died in 2002 at the age of 89.

The legacy of Benjamin O. Davis Senior and Benjamin O. Davis Junior is a testament to their character, courage and devotion to the United States of America. They helped pioneer the way for officers such as General Colin Powell and helped change this country for the better.  During times when discrimination was legal they overcame obstacles that would have challenged lesser men.  Benjamin O. Davis Junior remarked:

“My own opinion was that blacks could best overcome racist attitudes through achievements, even though those achievements had to take place within the hateful environment of segregation.”

Such men epitomize the selfless service of so many other African Americans who served the country faithfully and “by the content of their character” triumphed over the evil of racism and helped make the United States a more perfect union. That may seem threatened today with the open display of White Supremacy movements which are now openly being supported by certain Republican politicians, but it was worse before and in the words of the old spiritual, “we shall overcome.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, leadership, Military, Political Commentary, world war one, world war two in europe

“We’ll Lick this One Day…” Branch Rickey, Charles Thomas, Jackie Robinson and the Desegregation of Baseball

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John Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Ed Stanky and Jackie Robinson on opening day 1947

Friends of Padre Steve’s World.

Tomorrow Spring Training begins. It is also Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. For the Baseball purist, the Priest and the inept romantic the combination is quite juxtaposing. For the fact of the matter I don’t do either Lent which Ash Wednesday begins or Valentine’s Day very well. I routinely screw both of the up and as hard as I try I struggle to reach the Mendoza Line in either one. Of course that leaves baseball which for me is a religion, as well as a social commentary on America, our values, and virtues.

I’m not the first to say this an editor in Baseball Magazine wrote in 1921:

“Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote the Declaration, made proper provision for baseball when he declared that ‘all men are, and of right out to be, free and equal.’ That’s why they are at the ball game, banker and bricklayer, lawyer and common laborer.” 

But for African Americans in the first half of the Twentieth Century the game was as segregated as as any town that adhered to Jim Crow in the South or the Sundown Towns in the North and West which excluded them from the political, social privileges enjoyed by Whites. In spite of their relegation to the Negro Leagues a lot of people in baseball knew their talent and ability, one of them was Branch Rickey. Rickey was the first to successfully integrate a team. Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis opposed early attempts at integration from 1920 until his death in 1944, as a result early attempts to integrate teams failed.

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Charles Thomas 

It was in 1903 when Rickey, then a coach for the Ohio Wesleyan University baseball team had to console his star player, Charles Thomas when a hotel in South Bend Indiana refused him a room because he was black. Rickey found Thomas sobbing  rubbing his hands and repeating “Black skin. Black skin. If only I could make them white.” Rickey attempted to console his friend saying “Come on, Tommy, snap out of it, buck up! We’ll lick this one day, but we can’t if you feel sorry for yourself.”

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Branch Rickey

Thomas, encouraged by Rickey was remembered by one alumnus who saw a game that Thomas played in noted that “the only unpleasant feature of the game was the coarse slurs cast at Mr. Thomas, the catcher.” However, the writer noted something else about Thomas that caught his eye: “But through it all, he showed himself far more the gentleman than his insolent tormentors though their skin is white.” Thomas would go on to be a dentist and remain a friend of Rickey until Rickey’s death in 1965. He moved to New Mexico where he became on of the first African American dentists in that state. Mark Moore, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Dental Association noted:

“This was a time when being a professional was difficult for an African-American. As one of the first black dentists in New Mexico, Dr. Thomas helped desegregate dentistry. He had a significant impact on our national history and the dental profession.”

Baseball like most of America was not a place for the Black man. Rickey, a devout Christian later remarked “I vowed that I would always do whatever I could to see that other Americans did not have to face the bitter humiliation that was heaped upon Charles Thomas.”

In April 1947 Branch Rickey who was now the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers invited one African-American ballplayer to the Dodgers’ Spring Training site in Daytona Beach Florida. The South was still a hotbed of racial prejudice, Jim Crow was the law of the land and Blacks had no place in White Man’s baseball, but Rickey decided to challenge that rule and the player was Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson Shaking Branch Rickey's Hand

The Dodgers had been coming to Florida for years. Rickey moved the Dodgers from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach in 1947 after Jacksonville had refused to alter its segregation laws to allow an exhibition game between the Dodgers International League affiliate the Montreal Royals, for whom Robinson starred.

That was the year that Rickey signed Robinson to a minor league contract with the Royals.  When Rickey called up Robinson 6 days prior to the 1947 season Robinson broke the color barrier for both the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. However it would take another 12 years before all Major League teams had a black player on their roster.

It is hard to imagine now that even after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier that other teams did not immediately sign black players. However Rickey and Robinson broke the color barrier a year before Harry Truman had integrated the Armed Forces and seven years before the Supreme Court ruled the segregation of public schools illegal. But how could that be a surprise? The country was still rampant with unbridled racism. Outside of a few Blacks in the military and baseball most African Americans had few rights. In the North racism regulated most blacks to ghettos, while in the South, Jim Crow laws and public lynchings of progressive or outspoken Blacks.

Actor, director and civil rights activist Ossie Davis wrote in the book Baseball Nineteen – Oh – Seven” that:

“Baseball should be taken seriously by the colored player — and in this effort of his great ability will open the avenue in the near future wherein he may walk hand in hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all American games — baseball.”


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Larry Doby (above) and Satchel Paige signed by the Indians

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The Cleveland Indians under their legendary owner Bill Veeck were not far behind the Dodgers in integrating their team. Veeck claimed that his effort to purchase the Philadelphia Phillies was rejected by Kennesaw Mountain Landis when he announced that he would desegregate the team. Under Veeck’s direction the Tribe signed Larry Doby on July 5th 1947. Doby would go on to the Hall of Fame and was a key player on the 1948 Indian team which won the 1948 World Series, the last that the storied franchise has won to this date.

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Hank Thompson and Roy Campanella

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The St. Louis Browns signed Third Baseman Hank Thompson 12 days after the Indians signed Doby. But Thompson, Robinson and Doby would be the only Blacks to play in that inaugural season of integration. They would be joined by others in 1948 including the immortal catcher Roy Campanella who signed with the Dodgers and the venerable Negro League pitcher, Satchel Paige who was signed by the Indians.

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Monte Irvin (Above) and Willie Mays

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Willie Mays

It was not until 1949 when the New York Giants became the next team to integrate. They brought up Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson who they had acquired from the Browns. In 1951 they would be joined by rookie Willie Mays to become the first all African-American outfield in the Major Leagues. Both Mays and Irvin would enter the Hall of Fame and both remained key part of the Giants’ story. Despite their age have continued to be active in with the Giants and Major League Baseball, Mays still is but Irvin died in 2016.

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Samuel Jethroe

The Boston Braves were the next to desegregate calling up Samuel “the Jet” Jethroe to play Center Field. Jethroe was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1950.

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Minnie Minoso

In 1951 the Chicago White Sox signed Cuban born Minnie Minoso who had played for Cleveland in 1949 and 1951 before signing with the White Sox. Minoso would be elected to 9 All-Star teams and win 3 Golden Gloves.

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Ernie Banks (above) and Bob Trice

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The Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Athletics integrated at the end of the 1953 season. The Cubs signed Shortstop Ernie Banks who would go on to be a 14 time All-Star, 2 time National League MVP and be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977 on the first ballot. The Athletics called up pitcher Bob Trice from their Ottawa Farm team where he had won 21 games. Trice only pitched in 27 Major League games over the course of three seasons with the Athletics.

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Curt Roberts

Four teams integrated in 1954. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Second Baseman Curt Roberts from Denver of the Western League as part of a minor league deal. He would play 171 games in the Majors.  He was sent to the Columbus Jets of the International League in 1956 and though he played in both the Athletics and Yankees farm systems but never again reached the Majors.

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Tom Alston

The St. Louis Cardinals, the team that had threatened to not play against the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson in 1947 traded for First Baseman Tom Alston of the Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. Alston would only play in 91 Major League games with his career hindered by bouts with depression and anxiety.

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Nino Escalara (above) and Chuck Harmon

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The Cincinnati Reds brought up Puerto Rican born First Baseman Nino Escalera and Third Baseman Chuck Harmon. Harmon had played in the Negro Leagues and had been a Professional Basketball player in the American Basketball League. Harmon who was almost 30 when called up played just 4 years in the Majors. Both he and Escalera would go on to be Major League scouts. Escalera is considered one of the best First Baseman from Puerto Rico and was elected to the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame. Harmon’s first game was recognized by the Reds in 2004 and a plaque hangs in his honor.

Carlos-Paula

The Washington Senators called up Cuban born Center Fielder Carlos Paula from their Charlotte Hornets’ farm team in September 1954. Paula played through the 1956 season with the Senators and his contract was sold to the Sacramento Salons of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .271 in 157 plate appearances with 9 home runs and 60 RBIs. He died at the age of 55 in Miami.

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Elston Howard

In April 1955 the New York Yankees finally integrated 8 years after the Dodgers and 6 years after the Giants. They signed Catcher/Left Fielder Elston Howard from their International League affiliate where he had been the League MVP in 1954. Howard would play 13 years in the Majors with the Yankees and later the Red Sox retiring in 1968. He would be a 12-time All Star and 6-time World Series Champion as a player and later as a coach for the Yankees. He died of heart disease in 1980.  His number #32 was retired by the Yankees in 1984.

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The Philadelphia Phillies purchased the contract of Shortstop John Kennedy from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League at the end of the 1956 season. Kennedy played in just 5 games in April and May of 1957.

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Ozzie Virgil Sr.

In 1958 the Detroit Tigers obtained Dominican born Utility Player Ozzie Virgil Sr. who had played with the Giants in 1955 and 1956. Virgil would play 9 seasons in the Majors with the Giants, Tigers, Athletics and Pirates and retire from the Giants in 1969. He later coached for 19 years in the Majors with the Giants, Expos, Padres and Mariners.

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Pumpsie Green

The last team to integrate was the Boston Red Sox who signed Infielder Pumpsie Green. Green made his debut on 21 July 1959 during his three years with the Red Sox was primarily used as a pinch runner. He played his final season with the New York Mets in 1963. He was honored by the Red Sox in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of breaking the Red Sox color barrier.

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It took 12 years for all the teams of the Major Leagues to integrate, part of the long struggle of African Americans to achieve equality not just in baseball but in all areas of public life.  These men, few in number paved the way for African Americans in baseball and were part of the inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement itself.  They should be remembered by baseball fans, and all Americans everywhere for their sacrifices and sheer determination to overcome the obstacles and hatreds that they faced. It would not be until August of 1963 that Martin Luther King Jr. would give his I Have a Dream speech and 1964 that African Americans received equal voting rights.

Robinson would become a vocal supporter of civil rights, especially after his experience at the 1964 Republican National Convention. Robinson, a Republican and friend of Nelson Rockefeller where he was threatened by a White delegate. He wrote:

“It was a terrible hour for the relatively few black delegates who were present. Distinguished in their communities, identified with the cause of Republicanism, an extremely unpopular cause among blacks, they had been served notice that the party they had fought for considered them just another bunch of “niggers”. They had no real standing in the convention, no clout. They were unimportant and ignored. One bigot from one of the Deep South states actually threw acid on a black delegate’s suit jacket and burned it. Another one, from the Alabama delegation where I was standing at the time of the Rockefeller speech, turned on me menacingly while I was shouting “C’mon Rocky” as the governor stood his ground. He started up in his seat as if to come after me. His wife grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Turn him loose, lady, turn him loose,” I shouted.

I was ready for him. I wanted him badly, but luckily for him he obeyed his wife…” (From Jackie Robinson “I Never Had it Made” Chapter XV On Being Black Among the Republicans)

Spring training for the 2018 season begins tomorrow in Florida and Arizona, in what are called the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. It is hard to believe that only 70 years ago that there was only one team and one owner dared to break the color barrier that was and still is so much a part of American life.

However despite opposition and lingering prejudice African Americans in baseball led the way in the Civil Rights Movement and are in large part responsible for many of the breakthroughs in race relations and the advancement of not only African Americans, but so many others. We can thank men like  Charles Thomas, Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey for this and pray that we who remain, Black and White, Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern; Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu; Gay and Straight, as well as all others who make up our great nation will never relinquish the gains that have been won at such a great cost.

In an age were racism has crawled out from under the rock of social distain and has risen to such political prominence that civil rights and voting rights, as well as education, and employment, and healthcare for Blacks, other minorities, and the poor of all races are under attack it is important to remember the words of Branch Rickey to Charles Thomas in 1903: “We’ll lick this one day…” It will certainly be a hard fight, but we have to fight

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, civil rights, History, Loose thoughts and musings

“The Time for All Good Men Not to go to the Aid of Their Party, But to Come to the Aid of Their Country” Flake, Douglas, and McCarthy: Profiles In Senatorial Courage

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m up late tonight because of a snowstorm that is allowing me to go in to work late in the morning. But that allowed me to spend more time putting this article together and that is not a bad thing.

Yesterday Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made a speech on the Senate floor. I do not think that I have seen one like it since Stephen A. Douglas opposed President James Buchanan in 1858 regarding the LeCompton Constitution. I am trying to remember the last time I have seen a sitting U.S. Senator compare a President of his own party one of the worst dictators in the history of the world. I both watched it and read it and honestly I don’t think that I have seen anything close to it since Senator Eugene McCarthy destroyed Lyndon Johnson’s hopes for a second term in 1968.

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In 1858 Douglas warned his fellow Democrats about Buchanan, saying:

“I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Events like this are truly rare, they don’t happen often and when they do they are quite remarkable and are portents of bigger things to come. Douglas’s opposition ushered in a split in the Democratic Party and helped elect Abraham Lincoln who through his courage helped to overthrow the institution of slavery that Buchanan had sought to expand. McCarthy’s opposition to Johnson helped to not only torpedo Johnson’s hopes for a second term but helped to galvanize the nation against the Vietnam War, fracture the Democratic Party, and elect Richard Nixon.

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McCarthy was equally courageous. He noted: “This is, I say, the time for all good men not to go to the aid of their party, but to come to the aid of their country.”

Senator Flake’s speech was a real watershed, try as they might to shun Flake his Republican opponents like Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi who said: “I don’t think that sort of speech is helpful, I disagree with those quotes and I don’t know why it’s helpful. … I don’t see any need to further stir that pot.” Richard Shelby of Alabama noted: “He’s certainly crossed the Rubicon with Trump. Strife is not productive.” Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma railed against Flake “He hates him. He doesn’t like the president, I can’t imagine anyone questioning that. As it gets closer to the end of his time here, I think he’s going to accelerate his wrath against the president.” Senator John McCain defended his colleague from Arizona.

In previous times both Douglas and McCarthy were attacked by members of their own Party, McCarthy by men who would later become Republicans answering Nixon’s call to a Southern Strategy, Douglas by those who led the drive for secession and Civil War in 1860 and 1861.

Flake, for all of his flaws, and yes he does have them has been pretty much a loyal Republican voting with the GOP on Trump’s legislation the majority of the time, just like Douglas did with much of Buchanan’s legislation and McCarthy with Johnson’s. But all of them as loyal as they had been to their President and parties found something that they had to stand against.

With Douglas is was Buchanan’s assault on the Constitution and law, McCarthy it was the lies of the Johnson administration about Vietnam. Today it is Jeff Flake comparing President Trump to Josef Stalin. In fact one of his GOP critics pointed out how often that Flake had voted with Trump and asked if he would have done that with Stalin. It is a good question for anyone who ignores so much about a President so long that the legislation that they like gets approved, but that being said what Flake did was big and it demonstrated a moral courage that most politicians of both parties are lacking when they vote for legislation solely based on political expediency. So in the case of Senator Flake I say better late than never.

What the Arizona Senator was big and it is an ominous portent of the future regardless of what happens next. I say that very dispassionately as a historian.

If you have not read it or watched it here is what Senator Flake said:

Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.

As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.

It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last.

2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. “The enemy of the people,” was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.

This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward – despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on “false news” charges.

Mr. President, so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship — and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.

No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.

Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.

No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.

Now, we are told via Twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the “most corrupt and dishonest” media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.

And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.

Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.

It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial – such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.

But many untruths are not at all trivial – such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career – the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate – to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed “hoax” at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a “hoax” – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.

Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth – so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington – is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.

Mr. President, let us be clear. The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.

Mr. President, every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports.

But a recent report published in our free press should raise an alarm. Reading from the story:
“In February…Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, “You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.”

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being “demonized” by “fake news.” Last month, the report continues, with our President, quote “laughing by his side” Duterte called reporters “spies.”

In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet, that the world media had “spread lots of false versions, lots of lies” about his country, adding, “This is what we call ‘fake news’ today, isn’t it?”

There are more:

A state official in Myanmar recently said, “There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news,” referring to the persecuted ethnic group.

Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised “fake news” legislation in the new year.”

And on and on. This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.

We are not in a “fake news” era, as Bashar Assad says. We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.

In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster. As George Orwell warned, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”

Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.

What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question: “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

Mr. President, the question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world — made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.

We are a mature democracy – it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring – or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.

I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today. I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: “What is truth?” His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled “Oh Say, What is Truth.” It ends as follows:

Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst.
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal… unchanged… evermore.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

Senator Flake’s words reminded me a bit of the closing section of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beyond Vietnam speech in which he said:

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. 

That being said I wish that Flake would be much more like Douglas and fight to remain in the Senate and not retire. Douglas noted about his fight with Buchanan:

“After the Christmas recess, the Administration unleashed its heavy horsemen: Davis, Slidell, Hunter, Toombs, and Hammond, all southerners. They damned me as a traitor and demanded that I be stripped of my chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and read out of the Democratic party. Let the fucking bastards threaten, proscribe, and do their worst, I told my followers; it would not cause any honest man to falter. If my course divided the Democratic party, it would not be my fault. We were engaged in a great struggle for principle, I said, and we would defy the Administration to the bitter end.”

I wish more Republicans had the courage of Flake and even more Douglas who sacrificed his ambitions as the presumed front-runner for the 1860 Presidential election. His opposition to Buchanan and the Slave Power Southern Democrats ensured his defeat. When his opponents led the South to secede Douglas remained with the Union rallying Northern Democrats to the cause. Likewise despite a lot of popular support McCarthy was opposed by the party establishment and lost his bid to be the Democratic nominee in 1968. But he said something about the office of the Presidency that every American should support and defend:

“We do not need presidents who are bigger than the country, but rather ones who speak for it and support it.”

What is going on today is as big if not bigger than the crises that led loyal party men like Douglas and McCarthy to defy their President and Party.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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