Tag Archives: mass movements

Trump’s True Believers: Why Removing Trump Will be Harder than it Seems

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For those rejoicing in the continued revelations of President Trump’s malfeasance and incompetence hoping that this will soon trigger his removal either by impeachment or the use of the 25th Amendment be assured that unless something totally unexpected occurs that this will not end soon, nor well.

Dona;d Trump is a unique creature in American politics, he has succeeded in establishing himself as the center of a political cult that has taken over the Republican Party. Despite his overall approval ratings consistently being below 40% with terrible numbers pertaining to his basic character and trustworthiness, well over 80% of Republicans in every poll continue to support him. They reject any fact that is contrary to what they believe about their leader, and they tend to support the most unconstitutional aspects of his ill-defined political ideology, which more resembles the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip than anything from the American political tradition. They abhor those who raise objections of any kind based on fact so much that they have gone resorted to repeating what they sometimes refer to as alternative facts or alternative truths.

Guided by an uncompromising propaganda network of talk radio and television hosts as well as internet based organizations they have little loyalty to anyone but the President. This mass movement supported by such propaganda is well described by the great American philosopher Eric Hoffer who wrote:

“All mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

This is the world of alternative facts, and the prelude to dictatorship if the trend is allowed to continue. Likewise the true believers, those who follow the President as if he were some sort of Messiah intent on destroying the old order and establishing a new will not stand easily aside. Their support for the President is much deeper than normal political attachment, he is an extension of them who gives voice to their innermost fears, passions, and insecurity. They are defiant in their stand against those that he is against. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote of how the language of their leader and his propaganda works in the minds of the followers:

“Victor Klemperer, a literary scholar of Jewish origin, turned his philological training against Nazi propaganda. He noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition: The people always meant some people and not others (the president uses the word in this way), encounters were always struggles (the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the world in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).”  

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Thus they cannot be convinced by normal argument or fact. Hoffer noted:

“The leader personifies the certitude of the creed and the defiance and grandeur of power. He articulates and justifies the resentment damned up in the souls of the frustrated. He kindles the vision of a breath-taking future so as to justify the sacrifice of a transitory present. He stages a world of make-believe so indispensable for the realization of self-sacrifice and united action.”

Even when everything comes apart around them and their leader collapses they cannot admit that he was deceiving them. At the end of the war a German soldier told Victor Klemperer that “Hitler has never lied, I believe the Fuhrer.” Snyder writes: “The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant.”

With that kind of following in the GOP it will take a while before this is finished as most GOP leaders, even those who distrust or oppose Trump on some issues are too afraid of the Trump supporters who now control their party to attempt to remove him unless those supporters turn on him. This is unlikely at least in the near future, and there is always the possibility that early some morning Trump will tweet them into committing acts of violence to crush dissent, even against Republican leaders who have the courage to jump ship and turn on the President.

The man is not normal, he is not stable, and he knows nothing but conflict. His followers believe in him almost as a Messiah figure who cannot be wrong and must be defended to the last and experience has shown us that some of would resort to violence to silence his critics. 

Like Hitler and his most loyal followers, he sees this as a fight to the finish which Trump which he must win or be defeated. It is a zero sum conflict, and I do not expect it to end well, even if Trump is eventually removed by impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The New Freedom of the Mass Movement: “freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was startled when I read the latest Quinnipac poll numbers regarding the views of Republican supporters of President Trump. According to the poll 81% agree with the President that “the media is the enemy of the American people” while 86% believe trust the President to tell the truth rather than the media. In a world where during the election campaign the President’s statements were proven factually incorrect about 87% of the time this is stunning. Facts no longer seem to matter to most of the Republican Party loyalists, who once prided themselves on their individualism but now take their pride in the mob mentality of the mass movement that is built around the personality of the President.

I began to think about this and my mind was drawn back to the words of American philosopher Eric Hoffer who wrote about mass movements. Hoffer wrote of the people who become subsumed in mass movements:

“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.

President Trump has unleashed a new kind of freedom for his followers, a freedom from personal responsibility for their words and actions. This is a dangerous moment, for if our democracy does break, and the President and his supporters establish the authoritarian state that their words and actions seem to show that they aspire to, there will be little to restrain the base passion of those who have embraced the mass movement. This was shown true in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s as democracies flirted with, or in some cases embraced authoritarian rule with dreadful results. Timothy Snyder notes that “The European history of the twentieth century shows that societies can break, democracies fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands…”

This is not an over exaggeration or hyperbole, the signs of a coming authoritarian regime are everywhere, in the statements and actions of the administration, the acquiescence of the GOP majority in Congress, the actions of GOP dominated statehouse and legislatures, and in the words and actions of Trump supporters, from the most powerful to the most humble. Some of Trump’s supporters had a rally last week where Muslims, Jews, and immigrants were threatened and told to leave the country because it is a “Christian country,” called Senator John McCain a “Communist,” while an “Oath Keeper” told a reporter “I just want to let them know that I can’t wait for the liberal genocide to begin.” Other speakers, included a Congressman Anthony Kern added to the din. In a separate incident Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King called for a “purge” of leftists from government in a tweet so authoritarian sounding that it came right out of the Third Reich.

Obviously the people who are speaking in this manner are the more extreme proponents of Trump’s movement, but more concerning are the majority who are not saying anything in criticizing them, or him. In the face of evil, silence is tacit agreement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted: “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people…”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Groundhog Day and Nazi Comparisons

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was Groundhog day and Punxsutawney Phil has promised us another six weeks of winter. Since is was sixty degrees today with partly cloudy skies and light winds, I say let it continue. But that’s not really really what I’m writing about today, though historically it seems that we are in an era that seems like the movie Groundhog Day, except we aren’t repeating yesterday every day, but we are seeing history unfold in a similar way to an era that we would rather consign to to musty history books about the Third Reich.

Today, two friends shared an article of a blogger condemning those who are comparing the actions of President Trump to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He started his article “I’m no expert but…” and then went on to minimize what people are saying about Trump, comparing them to others on the right and left who have made comparisons of their political opponents with Hitler. I agree that there are people, plenty of them on the right and left who have compared their political opponents to Hitler, and if Donald Trump was a normal president I would say that such comparisons would be unfounded, but in my humble opinion, they are not.

I am a historian, as one of my colleagues told me yesterday, a “historian masquerading as a chaplain, and that’s not a bad thing.” My chief area of study in my undergraduate days was in German history, particularly the period of the end of Imperial Germany, the German civil war, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi era. The same was true with my second master’s degree in Military History, and much of my church history studies in seminary. I have written on a number of aspects of the subject, it is included in the Military Ethics class that I teach, and I would dare say that I am an expert in the subject and that I do not make comparisons to the Nazi era, or its leaders, to American political leaders lightly.

In fact, until the rise of Donald Trump, I have never had cause to compare the words, methods, or actions of any American President or serious presidential candidate to the Nazis. Any such comparisons, even to Richard Nixon, would be to unfounded hyperbole and ludicrous. I do know that there are people on the political left and right who have compared their political opponents to the Nazis or even Adolf Hitler himself, and as a serious historian I find their accusations to demean the historical importance of the period, especially in view of the great evil of the Nazis, especially in regard to the Holocaust.

Likewise when I see someone write a lengthy blog about these comparisons and begin it with “I’m not an expert but…” I am offended because it demeans the work of serious people, real experts, and equates them with ignorance. The man cited many of the differences between Germany of 1933 and the United States of 2016. There are differences, significant differences, but they do not disqualify comparisons between the periods, or between Herr Hitler and Mr. Trump. Those comparisons are in matters of substance, psychology, language, sociological, and political trends.

In 2001 the United States, which had just gone a divisive election which was decided in the Supreme Court was attacked. The shock to the country was immense, the attack was followed by prolonged wars and a massive economic crisis followed by the election of a President who was African American, an event which brought out some of the worst and most open racism I have ever seen in my life. In 1918, Germany lost a war, had its system of government fall, and was enveloped in a civil war punctuated with being saddled with the full blame for the war that they lost, and were ruled not by the Kaiser, not by conservatives, or nationalists, but by Socialists, something that many could not abide. As such, the Socialists were saddled with the blame for a war started by nationalists, and the myth of the Stab in the Back was used to explain the defeat of the German armies.

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The Stab in the Back

In both situations, the politics of the countries became exceptionally divisive, and over time the political center began to dissolve. In both instances, populist movements of the right and left stamped out the center, compromise was off the table. In both 1933 and 2016, the politician who took power represented a minority of the electorate, and neither had ever held any elected office. They were both demagogues who found convenient internal racial and religious scapegoats, and foreign powers to blame for the woes of the country. Neither Trump, nor Hitler was ever given a chance of gaining power, until they achieved it.

Both took advantage of the struggles of people who had not done well during the economic downturns, played on longstanding prejudices, exploited the weakness of the major political parties, coopted the fears of religious people who felt that they were not being considered. They were also supported by people of means, who were quite well off and willing to take their chances with a leader who could deliver people who would otherwise reject them. The similarities, while not exact go on and on.

But even more, when it comes down to the person of President Trump, honestly he cannot be compared to Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler was much more subtle and much more clever, although both were narcissists, both had no real friends and treated people as commodities, both demonstrated a need to be loved, and fear of rejection, as well as a compulsive need to demean, degrade, and bully any opponents, but Trump is but a cheap copy of Hitler.

It is interesting that the President’s first wife, who by the way supported his run for president, said that Trump kept copies of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s speeches by his bedside. During his campaign he frequently praised dictators and even quoted Mussolini in a tweet. His repeated use of the term “America First” is a throwback to an American movement that supported Hitler and his aggression in Europe up until Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States a few days later. If you look at the structure of his speeches during the campaign, they are laden with phrases used by the German dictator, and their structure is similar, albeit without Hitler’s mesmerizing prose. I have seen him speak in person, and watched the anger that he incites in his followers. I watched his inauguration speech several times, and read it again and again and I was struck by the similarity in tenor to many of Hitler’s speeches. If I was not so well acquainted with Hitler’s speeches, and his books, I would never dare to make the comparisons, it would not only be unwise, but also terribly wrong to make such a comparison based on a personal or ideological dislike, based on raw emotion and ignorance of the subject.

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He has surrounded himself with advisors who openly support fascist methods, and use propaganda techniques which mimic Hitler and his propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels. Like Hitler, once in power President Trump has used his office to demonize his opponents and rule by executive decree, effectively marginalizing the legislature and to defy and eviscerate the courts. In one important difference since Trump took power of a superpower, he did not have to wait years like Hitler in order to build up a military to threaten his neighbors and defy international institutions.

I could go on and on, but if there was any other historical comparison that I could use instead of the Nazi comparison, I would. But let me qualify that statement. Trump is not Hitler and he has not at least yet, acted on his most radical statements concerning deportations of millions of people, discrimination based on race or religion, banning all opposition, and curtailing freedom of speech, although he and his advisors constantly threaten the press and anyone who voices the slightest opposition to them, including simply pointing out their repeated lies. Nor has he embarked on any new wars, though his words and the words of Steve Bannon, his closest advisor, threaten war with China, Iran, Mexico, and are destroying the bonds that we have with our longest and closest allies.  On the National Security Council the President has sidelined his military chiefs and replaced them with the ideologue Bannon. The sad thing about the last part was this was exactly how Hitler treated his military chiefs. They were called in to carry out orders, not to give sane advice, and he undercut them whenever he needed. In both cases many of their followers tolerated no criticism of their leader, often resorting to threats of violence or actual physical violence to suppress their opponents. In both cases their leaders not only tolerated such behavior, but encouraged it.

Hitler is dead, his Reich defeated, but his ideas are still around and can be seen in the current right-wing nationalist movements masquerading as populists in Europe and the United States. What happened in Germany in the 1930s  can happen again. Thus it is better to sound an early warning using facts and reason to hopefully ensure that it doesn’t happen. Such warnings should not be taken for granted, too many people and political leaders, not only in Germany, but around the world, took Hitler for granted believing that he could be controlled and that his radical ideas were hyperbole and would never be acted on. They were wrong. As a result the world, and Germany itself paid a massive price in human life for ignoring the danger until it was too late.

Again I don’t make such comparisons lightly, and in a relatively short article like this I cannot go into the detail with all the citations, though I have the material at hand to do so, I haven’t the time to write a book about it, though I’m sure that I could. I have three books that I am currently working on, all dealing with the American Civil War, one of which is getting to the point that I am trying hard to complete it and get it to a publisher in the next month or two, so I really don’t want to start another book. But I think that this weekend I will provide my readers a list of references on the Third Reich as well as totalitarianism, that if read critically, and thoughtfully, would be of great help to understanding our own time.

If you want you can look at some of my articles on this site dealing with mass movements, and totalitarianism, especially those that are based on the writings of Eric Hoffer or Hannah Arendt. They are helpful to understanding the political, ideological, and emotional aspects of how people like Hitler and Trump gain power, and why people are willing to through out reason, logic, ethics, and even faith, to support them.

So anyway, until the weekend, have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

P.S. I did watch the movie Groundhog Day last night. It is one of my traditions.

 

 

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What Matters is Justice… A Divine Spark or a Killer Angel?

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Southern Justice by Norman Rockwell 

Friend of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week and a half since the election I have seen many reports of attacks, violence, and harassment of people by persons that claim that the election of Donald Trump allows them to do so. Gays, Mexicans, Muslims, Women, Blacks, and people identified as being “liberal” have all been targeted, sometimes in person, sometimes by the posting of racist flyers on houses and cars, vandalism of churches, and online harassment and trolling. Sadly, these actions do not seem to be abating.

But then I think I know why. For decades those perpetrating these acts have desired to get even and take revenge on people and organizations that they fell are trampling their way of life, or in some destroying the racial and religious purity of the country, and over the years, goaded by preachers, pundits, and politicians their anger has become hatred of all who stand on the other side. Eric Hoffer wrote that “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life.”

As such, civil rights advocates, institutions that support equality, and the minorities in question become the target of long pent up frustration, and seething hatred that has built up for years just waiting for someone to release the valves and let it flow. To the people committing these acts that person is Donald Trump. It began in the primaries where supporters demonized and destroyed any principled GOP opposition to him, and now it has been let loose, and I see no end of it despite President Elect Trump’s call to “knock it off.”

We would like to such behavior is abnormal, but it is a deeply ingrained part of our humanity. I recall the words of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, one of my heroes, in the movie Gettysburg when he quotes Hamlet to the curmudgeonly Irish soldier Buster Kilrain, “What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel.”  Kilrain, who had to flee Ireland responded “Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel. Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a vast great difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel… There is no “divine spark”. There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country…. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better… But I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel, is justice…”

I constantly wrestle with the tension of my idealism and my inner realist, the inner realist being much more like Kilrain. So when I see the way people are venting their anger at their enemies, seemingly bent on revenge for grievances real and imagined I tremble. I know history and human nature too well, and the one constant in history is humanity which seems to be forever at war between its amazing and almost angelic qualities of goodness and compassion and its blind hatreds of things it fears.

In the past election campaign we saw people on every side of the spectrum demonizing and dehumanizing their opponents, and despite my best efforts not to give in to that, I too was guilty of at times doing just that and I am not proud, it is one thing to passionately advocate and defend, but it is not okay to dehumanize your opponents. As I wrote last night I have had to come to grips with that, and begin to try to help heal the wounds in our country by reaching out to specific people who I came into conflict with and with whom I must attempt to ask forgiveness for my actions, will at the same time attempting to forgive those who also wounded me. As I wrote yesterday, the latter will be much more difficult.

However, those feelings are still high on both sides of the political chasm and will not go away for some time, but one side now is taking control of all the levers of government, for good, or for bad, what happens next we do not know, we can only speculate and we have to ponder the question; in such an environment where long seated hatred and revenge seems to be such a big factor, can justice survive?

Donald Trump has done something that no single American politician has ever accomplished; he has single-handedly created a mass movement of people whose loyalty is to him and not the political party that he used to gain the Presidency. Some are comparing him to President Andrew Jackson but I don’t know if that is a good comparison, but I digress as I am thinking not so much about President Elect Trump as I am thinking about the mass movement that he has created, and what I have seen, read, and experienced at the hands of some of those people.

American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote of people who become subsumed in mass movements:

“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.

I believe that we are beginning to see how that will play out. I could be wrong, President Elect Trump may take a hard line against those who commit violence, but his pick of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General bodes ill for civil rights and based on his record and statements regarding them. He has called civil rights proponents “un-American” and in the 1980s he was rejected for the Federal Judiciary based on numerous racist statements and positions. Now he will be in charge of the Department of Justice and the Federal judiciary. So I think one can legitimately be concerned about justice and civil rights. Will Sessions enforce the law, or will he turn his back by not prosecuting those who use intimidation and violence to crush the civil and human rights of people who they despise? Will Steve Bannon, a man who just this summer claimed that his media corporation was a platform for the “Alt-Right,” exercise his influence as chief counselor and strategist to the President to push for even more radical steps against political opponents?

One hopes that our better angels prevail, or will we as a people demonstrate that there is no divine spark?

So with those questions asked I will leave you for the day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Zealots and Ideologues

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“In this world, there are no sides. Only players.”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think my favorite character on television is Raymond “Red” Reddington, played by James Spader on the shoe The Blacklist. He is a very complex and troubling character, and the thing is I can understand him. His is a world of gray where he does the right thing for wrong reasons and the wrong thing for right reasons. His loyalties are personal and not ideological, he is a man of contradictions, as am I. Raymond Reddington one said, “Cultural peculiarities notwithstanding, I find cock fighting to be abominable. However, truth be told, I do love fried chicken.” I totally agree with that, sorry Vegan friends.

My regular readers know that I am a complex person as well. I am a Christian, a priest at that, who often doubts; a career military officer who hates war, but also realizes that as much of an evil as war is, that there are worse evils than war itself.  Likewise I am very liberal and progressive in my political and social beliefs, but I serve in a profoundly conservative institution that is not always welcoming to my beliefs. But that being said, even though I am a liberal and progressive at heart, my education as a historian and my life experience mitigates against me becoming an ideologue or zealot, and I am not a revolutionary.

I tend to be able to see and appreciate arguments of multiple points of view on almost every issue, and I wrestle with them, doing the best I can to do the right thing. Whether it is for the right reason or not, I don’t pretend to know. Maybe that is one reason I have friends on all sides of the political, religious, and ideological debates that rage about this country and in the world. But as always I digress…

In the last episode of season three of The Blacklist, Reddington tells an assistant FBI director who he has been helping solve crimes, “I know so many zealots, men and women, who choose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” From my experience I believe that to be the truth, and truthfully, I would rather deal with people that wrestle with this difficult world than rather than those whose beliefs are shaped by their ideology first, regardless of facts, divergence of opinions, history, science, reality, and experience.

But what bothers me in what I see going on in this country and around the world is that mass movements of ideologues and zealots of every persuasion, political and religious, those that have seized or are trying to seize power in many nations, and foment revolution. Captivated by ideological purity, they are unwilling to compromise and frequently label anyone that disagrees with them or the leader of their movement, even in the slightest manner as traitors or evil. Many times the zealots take no time to evaluate the quality of the merits of their movement or those that oppose them, their cause is right, their opponents are evil and need to be destroyed. I think the most distressing case is where the Nazis and German Communists worked together to destroy the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Eric Hoffer wrote,  “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” Likewise, Hoffer noted something that I observe almost every day, that the zeolots and ideologues of mass movements use anger and hatred to unify their followers. Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Believe, me, ask any ideologue of any type, and he or she will tell you who their devil is. But sadly history demonstrates that a mass movements of any type, political, ideological, or religious has achieved powe, all opponents, especially those closest to them ideologically or religiously are the enemy, or to use Hoffer’s words “a devil.” The opponents closest to the ideologues ideology have to be destroyed or discredited first, before they can move on to battle their real opposites. Just look at history.

The ideologue cannot lose because he already knows his answer, the classic fundamentalist Christian quote, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”  is very much descriptive of other ideologically driven mass movements be they conservative or liberal. The ideologue’s attitudes are derived from their ideology and are often not subject to facts. I see it every day, especially on social media where partisans of evil persuasion fire broadside after broadside at all opponents, regardless of the facts, or even the fact that there may be more than one equally valid viewpoint on a subject. But then I tend to see everything in various shades of gray and not in black and white absolutes, and ideologues of all types frighten me, even those whose unbending beliefs are sugarcoated with millennial or utopian sentiments of the perfect world that will follow their victory. I know from history that such is not the case, in far too many instances first thing that radical, or self-proclaimed revolutionaries do after achieving absolute power is to kill.

Maybe that is why I like Raymond Reddington. I really do think that real courage is to wrestle with reality every day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe; and today that may be different then tomorrow, but it will be based on reality and tempered by my often contradictory beliefs. Of course a true political ideologue or religious fundamentalist will condemn me to their version of hell of being that honest, but it is true. That is my uncomfortable reality, it may not be right, and my vision may be skewed and distorted, but it is what it is, and as Reddington said, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mass Movements, Devils & Tipping Points

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The Nazis made the Jews their “Devil”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer once wrote, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

Hatred is an amazing emotion. I the day and a half that I have been home from Europe I have been almost overwhelmed by the amount of hatred being posted on social media, blogs, and by supposedly Christian preachers, politicians and pundits. Of course if you want find a politician, pundit and preacher all wrapped into one person look no further than Baptist preacher, conservative media pundit, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, but I digress…

It is funny when you even mildly disconnect from this climate for even a week, just how overwhelming returning to this can be, and how easy it would be to respond in kind, because unlike love, hatred is easy to conjure up. It is kind of like what you need to build a fire; fuel, oxygen and heat. To generate hatred on a massive scale all you need is a disaffected populace, a convenient target, and an agent to ignite the mixture.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

Snyder is quite correct, demonizing a people and making them some kind of “other”, “they”, or “them”, is a wonderful way to blame a group of people for the ills of society. It is also a good way to deflect the blame for the corporate failures of societies and governments onto a convenient scapegoat; and to blame others for the personal failures and petty jealousies of the people doing the demonizing. It also allows people to abandon ethics and the simple notion of the Golden Rule an engage in genocide.

Mass movements and their leaders; of which the contemporary “Christian Right” is one, love to use this technique; especially when using it against those of other races or religions. The technique is not at all new, it has been used from antiquity but has become much more dangerous in the modern era with the spread of instant communications technology. History shows us all too clearly how it has happened and how easily it can happen again. Witch hunts, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of the Native Americans which inspired Hitler in his campaign of genocide and the Holocaust; the Soviet gulags and ethnic cleansings, the Rape of Nanking, the Chinese Communist “Cultural Revolution” the Rwandan genocide, Srebrenica, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, and the current crimes against humanity of the so called Islamic State. Sadly, the list can go on and on.

All of these events simply required the elements of a disaffected population, a devil or scapegoat to blame, and a leader or leaders to ignite the volatile mixture; fuel, oxygen and heat. Hoffer was quite correct that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” The really successful leaders of such movements understand this. For Hitler it was the Jews and other untermenschen; for American Southerners after the Civil it was the Blacks and their white supporters. For the American “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 1850s it was immigrants, especially Irish and Germans who were Catholic; for Stalin it was non-Russian ethnic minorities. For the leaders of the Islamic State, it is Jews, Shi’ite Moslems, less than “faithful” Sunnis, Christians and well for that matter anyone who does not line up one hundred percent with them on every issue. The examples are so plentiful to support this fact that it is almost overwhelming.

The problem is that when any society, or government begins to label or stigmatize a race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, or political ideology, and then in the process demonize those people to the point that they become less than human we have reached a tipping point. We reach the point where we are just one crisis away from all of those crimes against humanity that we believe that we are no longer capable of doing. But sadly, we human beings are not nearly as evolved as we think and I think that the tipping point in the United States may be far closer than we could ever imagine.

Those that follow my writings on this site know how much I love the various Star Trek television series and movies. There is an episode (The Siege of AR-558) of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where the Ferengi bartender Quark, makes a truly astute observation during a battle for survival at an isolated outpost:

“Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.”

I really do not think that we are too far from some tipping point where the politicians, pundits and preachers; especially those of the political right and the media whores who are more concerned about market share than truth, decide that their “devils” must be exterminated. Of course when they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose; or perhaps use the language of Manifest Destiny, the Lost Cause, or the Stab in the Back or some other historical myth that suffices to justify their actions.

In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode entitled The Drumhead Captain Picard has to warn his security officer, Lt Worf about the dangers of rampant paranoia. Worf starts: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”
 

Picard pauses and then notes:

“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”

To claim Picard’s words for myself after being somewhat off the grid in Europe the past week and having come home to the fusillade of hatred being spewed forth, I have to admit that I don’t like what we have become either.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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