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The Banality of Criminality: Complicity and Dishonor in the Age of Trump, the Example of Michael Flynn

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dwight D. Eisenhower noted:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

It is becoming more clear every day that the wheels are coming off the Presidency of Donald Trump, and that as a man and as a person that he is losing any grip on reality and lives in a cloud-Cuckoo land of lies, untruths, and alternate facts. He has shown throughout his life and career that he has no integrity, especially while serving as President, which makes Eisenhower’s words relevant to our present crisis.

Likewise it is quite clear now, that the President has been implicated in what the founders of the country and the writers of our Constitution would understand to be high crimes and misdemeanors. The banality of his and his administration’s criminality is buttressed by the cult of personality that surrounds him. The latter would not be possible without the fifty year process of the moral and ethical disintegration of the Republican Party. Eisenhower wouldn’t recognize the GOP of today.

However, the President has not been indicated in Federal Court, nor charged with crimes and impeached by the House of Representatives yet, but the writing is on the wall. It is only a matter of time before Robert Mueller indicts the men closest to the President; his son Donald Jr., and son-in-Law Jared Kushner. The evidence is mounting of their premeditated attempt to collude with Russia for both political and financial gain. The revelations of the past week would be the beginning of the end for the President and his lawless administration if only the GOP members of the Senate would have the courage to do what Barry Goldwater did in 1974 to give Richard Nixon an ultimatum.

Over the past week we have seen countless GOP leaders excuse the blatant lies of the President, and ignore the complicity of him, his family, and his closest collaborators as “they didn’t happen”, “if they did happen they weren’t criminal”, ” they happened and they were against the law, but they are not really Crimes because it’s a bad law”, or “people do them all the time”, and “what about Hillary?” Of course none of these defenses call for personal responsibility or defense of the law and Constitution, it is all about holding onto power.

But even more troubling than the President and his conditorei of putrid family members, bankers, investors, shyster lawyers, and incredibly compromised and often incompetent individuals he has appointed to cabinet positions, are some of the former military men in the cabinet who served in the cabinet. The most notorious of these is the convicted felon and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who after getting a gift in the form of sentencing accused the FBI of tricking him into lying. I won’t even go into Ryan Zinke, John Kelly, or Mike Pompeo.

Flynn’s film-flam act is maddening to me because as an officer he should have known better. He lied to investigators and he certainly knew that lying to them was wrong. I know this because I enlisted the same year that he was commissioned, and was just two years behind him when I was commissioned. We come out of the same post-Vietnam pipeline of Army officers. We both were commissioned from the ROTC program, albeit from different universities. But we knew the rules, our programs were similar in that Ethics was taught, and after Vietnam it was considered a big deal. I don’t know about Flynn, but I had to take a course on military law while in ROTC. We went through officer basic and officer advanced courses that contained a common core of classes, We served as platoon leaders, company executive officers, company commanders, as well as battalion and brigade staff officers.

As officers we both administered the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and both took sworn statements, administered Miranda Rights, conducted 15-6 investigations, Reports of Survey, and as commanders administered non-judicial punishment under Article 15. When doing that we served as prosecutor, judge, and jury over the soldiers charged with violating the UCMJ. There is no way that Flynn didn’t known that lying to an investigator wasn’t wrong. He lied and knew that it was wrong.

My career path veered from his when I returned to the National Guard to attend seminary full time to become a Chaplain. My senior positions have all been served as an Army or Navy Chaplain. Like him I served in combat, except I did so unarmed, far away from big battalions that could protect me.

But maybe I embraced an ethic that Flynn didn’t, let’s call it The Code. Let me explain.

My thirty-seven plus year military career began in the Army. I enlisted in the California Army National Guard when I entered the senior ROTC program at UCLA. Though I never attended West Point, Annapolis, or any of the other military academies, I always embraced the Cadet Code of the United States Military Academy at West Point. It states:

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Likewise I have always subscribed to and tried to uphold the motto of West Point, which General Douglas MacArthur put into such moving words in 1962:

“Duty, Honor, Country” — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.

But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.

They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease.

They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman…”

The code may sound old fashioned, a bit puritanical, or even pharisaical to some, including many current and former officers. I actually had a friend, a retired Army Chaplain who retired at a grade higher than I will ever hold told me that in my criticism of the President and his high ranking supporters that he saw “my inner Pharisee” come out. I told him that it wasn’t my “inner Pharisee, but my inner Army company Commander.” I subscribe to a code of honor that far too many people across the political spectrum despise and ridicule, especially those of the Christian Right who defend the President as if he is the Messiah. Sometimes I feel like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, except I wouldn’t order the code red.

The concept of honor may be a punch line to many people but for me it has been a way of life. That honor includes telling the truth, even as an officer to commanders and those that outrank me. Doing this has cost me dearly many times in my career in both the Army and Navy. I cannot shut up an be silent when I see superiors lying, cheating, and tolerating those who do. To enforce such ideas on junior personnel is expected, but to speak those words in a prophetic voice to those in power is dangerous, but I have often lived dangerously, and truthfully I have been lucky. Only once has someone tried to have me tried by Court Martial, and that was a retired officer last year who made a written complain to my commanding officer for a sermon that I preached, but I digress…

The reality is that throughout my life I have tried to live up to the Cadet Code, and the motto of Duty, Honor, Country my whole life and for doing somI have often been treated as an anachronism, out of step with the world, even at times from senior military officers.

I could tell you stories, but only over a beer in a bar about those instances, without any recording devices at hand. That being said, if I ever ran into the people that I am talking about, I would confront them in person and give them a chance to defend their actions. I would then walk away, satisfied that my honor was still intact.

But what bothers me now mor than anything is watching men and women who I once respected, defend the indefensible, excuse the inexcusable, and accuse the already acquitted for actions of the President and those around him who if he had been a Democrat they would have already voted to impeach. But my standard has been consistent regardless of who the President is and what his party affiliation. I wanted to see Bill Clinton impeached, I couldn’t support John Edwards because of he cheated on his wife when she had cancer, and as much as I liked and admired him, I thought it was right that former Senator Al Franken resigned, as much as I liked and respected him as a Senator. I have no respect for Newt Gingrich in part for having an affair, and divorcing his wife while she was fighting cancer. Likewise,as much as I like him as a person, I still believe that George W. Bush was a War Criminal for invading Iraq.

The office of the President, the Constitution, and our system of government mean much more to me than my party affiliation. Frankly, that has always been the case for me.

I spent the vast majority of my adult life as a Republican for God’s sakes, but after returning from Iraq, and seeing the claims of the Bush Administration for the war, which I had believed, turn out to be lies on the order of the crimes that we prosecuted at Nuremberg, just couldn’t remain in the party.

When I see people who I know and consider to be friends throw ethics, morality, and faith under the bus to defend the indefensible acts of this President I do get worried, and all of us should be because it is happening all the time.

I was raised to believe that military officers are to hold to a higher moral code than politicians, lawyers, businessmen, or even priests or preachers; I was an officer long before I was ordained. For me it all goes back to the West Point Cadet Code.

So when I see Michael Flynn attack the FBI for “tricking him to lie” after he was cut a huge deal for his testimony, I have to wonder where he was in the classes about military ethics. But then maybe his Professor of Military Science hadn’t been assigned to the Task Force that investigated the My Lai Massacre, or whose primary history professor at California State University Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler, who served as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials. I know what happens when military officers sacrifice their integrity to serve leaders that have none, or in wars where they abandon all the principles that they were supposed to uphold.

But then, just maybe in the words of my friend, mentor, and former superior, maybe I am a Pharisee because I value honor over political expediency, or what helps me the most right now.

So for today I will leave you with the words of General Ludwig Beck who lost his life during the abortive attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

That is what I consider to the moral failure of the officers cannot see anything wrong in the actions of this President and his administration; they place their party and ideology over the Constitution, the law, and the people. They not only tolerate, but they defend those who lie, cheat, and steal to gain political power.

For me it always comes back to that code of honor.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, culture, ethics, History, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

“Incapable of Feeling Shame” The Moral Bankruptcy of the Trump Administration

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

In the case of President Trump, presidential power means never having to say your sorry, or made a mistake. Failures are blamed on others, Congressional leaders, former President’s Obama and Bush, journalists, and even advisors who have outlasted their usefulness, case in point, Michael Flynn, James Comey, Steve Bannon, H. R. McMaster, Reince Priebus, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, Tom Price, Sebastian Gorka, and so many more. Conservative columnist and former Bush Administration staffer Michael Gerson wrote in July of 2017: “The president and his men are incapable of feeling shame about shameful things.”

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

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

Likewise, even if those characteristics do not reach the point of becoming an actual psychological disorder, they can be severe enough to impair sound judgment as a leader, and lead to potentially terrible decisions including criminal acts so vast that they beggar the imagination. History shows us this all too often. These kinds of leaders see the world as a threatening place, full of enemies, real and imagined. Ethics and law are irrelevant to them so long as they win. The destruction of their enemies is of the first importance to such leaders, even when it is detrimental to the nations that they lead, even Hitler turned on Germany at the end of the Second World War because he lost the war and then blamed it on his people.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trust, if Lost Will Take a Generation to Regain: A Lesson from 1938 for President Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s Word,

Thomas Paine wrote: “Character is much easier kept than recovered.”Those words apply to nations and government as much as they do to individuals.

As you might have noticed I have been spending much time writing about the corrosive effect of what the Trump administration’s strategy of willful deceit, the denial of factual truth, and the creation of so-called alternate facts, truth, and reality, on our life as a nation. I am going to return to that because it appears that the strategy is continuing to be used, and that the administration is now scrambling to hide inconvenient facts from the FBI and Congressional committees investigating the possibility of the collusion of Russian officials with Trump campaign and administration officials.

This effort  spread to Representative Devin Nunes who is the committee chairman of the House committee investigating the allegations and who closed down that investigation claiming that he found no evidence of collusion with Russia despite the testimony of Republican and Democrats on that committee that Nunes had not investigate or interviewed many of the principles involved and who maintained that there indeed was collusion between members of the Trump organization, campaign, and administration with the Russians. This action was followed by the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and a fusillade of attacks on Robert Muller, James Comey, Ron Rosenstein, others involved with the investigation, and even Attorney General Sessions whose head is believed to be on the Trump chopping block.

Every day more evidence is revealed that there is a very good chance that the Russians have compromised the President and some of his closest advisors and family members. That being said there are so many people in the administration that appear to be connected to Russian officials, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, both who have been indicted by Robert Muller; Flynn even taking a plea deal in which he plead guilty to the charges against him. Likewise, others may have received large amounts of money from Russia sources to influence United States policy on the behalf of the Russian government and business oligarchy, particularly in regard to the Ukraine which Russia invaded and seized the Crimean Peninsula. Manafort appears to possibly be connected to Russian actions that led to the death of Ukrainians and quite possibly the shoot down of Malaysian Airline Flight 17.

The President’s attacks on American allies which have culminated in imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum that hurt our allies more than our enemies are weakening the United States. Likewise his refusal to take action against Russian attacks on the American election system and electorate, and the vast number of outright lies and distortions that he tells on a daily basis give anyone with cause to believe that his word is not to be trusted.

Such actions are quite dangerous, and one only has to look to the example of France in 1938 during the Czech crisis where conservative politicians, military officers, and the French right wing media allowed themselves to fall under the spell of Hitler, abandon Czechoslovakia, and with it their only chance of stopping the Nazi advance in Europe. But to them it did not matter. William Shirer recounts those days in his book The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France 1940:

“Nor did the public realize how it was being poisoned and misled, not only by Fascist-minded leaders and newspapers, small in number but growing in influence, who on ideological grounds wished to accommodate Hitler and Mussolini, but also by Frenchmen who were being manipulated by German agents and money. It was at this time that Otto Abertz, the genial “Francophile” Nazi agent in Paris, became most effective. Easily penetrating political, business, social and cultural circles he worked tirelessly at winning their sympathies for Nazi Germany. He engineered trips with all expenses paid, for numerous politicians, intellectuals, industrialists, and leaders of the war veterans’ groups to Germany, where they were wined, dined, and otherwise feted, and fed with Nazi propaganda. He obtained lucrative contracts for French writers to have their books translated and published in Germany. He arranged interviews for French journalists with Hitler so that the Fuehrer could reiterate that he wished only peace and friendly relations with France. He was believed by the French secret police, which constantly shadowed him, to be the chief source of Nazi funds for buying French journals, journalists, and others of influence. Doriot’s openly Fascist daily, La Liberte, was almost entirely subsidized by Berlin. This was probably an exception. As Pierre Comert., chief of the Press Service at the Quai d’Orsay, testified to the Parliamentary Investigating Committee later: “The German agents at the time didn’t buy newspapers. They bought journalists. It was cheaper. And it was more effective.

Aside from the cheapening of moral values which followed inevitably from the abandoning of Czechoslovakia, the Munich settlement further deepened and complicated the already calamitous divisions among the French…”

When a nation abandons its allies. When its leaders give every impression of siding with an age old hostile power while insulting and demeaning its closest allies. When it reneges on deals made in good faith with other countries on issues that are important to the whole world, such as global warming, when it abandons economic pacts that worked to balance power and maintain peace, it harms more than its physical, military, and economic power: it damages its credibility. As one newspaper wrote of France after the Munich agreement that destroyed Czechoslovakia:

“Who will again believe the word of France? Who will remain her ally? Why would the French government, which has just annulled “of her own accord” her pact with Czechoslovakia, respect the Franco-Soviet Pact?”

What will be said of the United States if its leaders betray its ideals, and its promises? That trust, if lost, will take a generation or more to regain, but the cost of that loss of trust will harm us all in ways that we cannot even begin to fathom.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Everlasting Groundhog Day that is Trump’s America

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is Groundhog Day, but in this strange new world of the United States of Trump I always feel like I am waking up to Groundhog Day. A President and administration that has been the subject of numerous real scandals, a President who has told over 2000 verifiable lies and counting barely a year into office, and a Congress, especially the GOP majority in the House of Representatives that has bound themselves to those scandals, lies, and possible treason by their actions that appear to be assisting in the obstruction of justice.

I could go into all of that but there is so much going on. The biggest event will happen today Congressman Devin Nunes releases a secret report with the approval of the  President  attacking the veracity and integrity of the investigation of Special Prosecutor  Robert Muller  of potentially illegal and maybe even treasonous actions by numerous members of the Trump Campaign staff.  Including some who became members of the administration like the Bungee-National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. As a former Republican I never in a million years expected Republicans to so shamelessly discredit the FBI, other intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice. So much for all that I believed about Republicans respecting the Rule of Law.

Then there is the mutual admiration society that White Supremacists and neo-Nazis like former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke , Richard Spencer and the publisher of the neo-Nazi The Stormer  Andrew Anglin  seen to have with the President.

But that’s not all, we have a Republican Paul Nehlen running to oppose Paul Ryan in Michigan who is so anti-Semitic that he divides his critics into two categories; Jews and non-Jews. We have the leader of the GOP controlled Pennsylvania State House who is refusing to implement the order of the State Supreme Court to redraw gerrymandered congressional districts before the 2018 mid-term elections.  In Missouri there is a GOP State Representative named  Rick Brattin who has stated that human beings are different than LTBTQ people.

Even after the defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama there are two Federally convicted felons running for the Senate, Joe Arapaio in Arizona, and Don Blankenship, former Chairman & CEO of Massey Energy in West Virginia. Arapaio was convicted of civil rights violations as Sheriff of Maricopa County and pardoned by President Trump. Blankenship was convicted for conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as securities fraud after 29 coal miners were killed in Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

Then there is the GOP Congressman Scott DeJarlais  from Tennessee who paid a mistress to have an abortion despite the fact that he is a married supposedly “pro-life” Evangelical Christian. He wasn’t alone Congressman Tim Murphy , another pro-life Republican did the same. But that doesn’t matter because Christian preachers like   Tony Perkins and  Franklin Graham are willing to give the President a “gimme” for an affair with a porn star after his third wife and now First Lady Melania had given birth to his son, and that he has been a serial adulterer cheating on all of his wives.

If all of these events were were isolated instances or aberrations one might be able to shrug their shoulders and sigh, but they are just a few of many more that could be named.

Thus today when I think of Groundhog Day I realize that I and yes you too are doomed to endure it for I think will be a minimum of three more years, and by that time the damage to the very fabric of our Republic will surely last for the rest of my lifetime, if not far longer.

I wish that things were different, but as Timothy Snyder noted, it only takes about a year for an authoritarian to take over or fundamentally change a country.

It’s been a year and the President’s attacks on the Constitution, the legal system, the judiciary, Federal Law Enforcement, the free press, African American sports figures, America’s allies, as well as any opponent while backed by his party and a third of the electorate mean that this is not going to end anytime soon.

I am not optimistic and wonder when the President will be afforded the chance for his own Reichstag Fire event, something that he seems to  have its upsides.  Let’s not even talk about the coming war with North Korea tonight.

So anyway, until tomorrow, Happy Groundhog Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Grave Responsibility to Remember and Remind: The 71st Anniversary of the Opening of the Nuremberg Trails

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is the 71st anniversary of the opening of the Nuremberg Trials. I write about this a lot and I know some people, even so-called progressives have told me that they know the Nazis were evil and that they don’t want to hear it, while alleged conservatives vehemently object because they do not believe that such things can happen again.

However that is not the point. The reason I post things like this is because the players in the drama are representative of humanity, and humanity is the one constant in all history. Human beings and their propensity for good as well as evil is what these posts are about, and the fact is that any human being is capable of committing such crimes or turning a blind eye to them, to simply go along with the system and not to make waves. That is part of human nature, we value liberty, but that liberty lies in our hearts, and when it dies there, it dies. As the great American jurist Learned Hand said:

“I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon law and upon courts. These are false hopes, believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.” 

When that spirit of liberty is lost, when that sensitivity to the rights and needs of others trampled, when a desire for revenge and getting even displaces civility and compassion; there is nothing than stop evil, for evil will find ways to justify their evil deeds under the cloak of legality. That is what Germany did in the 1930s and what I believe may happen in the United States and other Western nations as the wave of populism and xenophobic racism sweeps the globe. Robert Jackson said, “The most odious of all oppressions are those which mask as justice.”

That is why it is so important to remember the evil that we as human beings are capable of and not to run roughshod over the rights of those with whom we disagree. Since the election of Donald Trump I have seen many comments of his supporters and the well documented writings and opinions of three of first appointees, Stephen Bannon, Michael Flynn, and Jeff Sessions. All have extensive writings and comments which advocate policies designed to limit freedom and excise whole groups from the United States. His supporters are condemning all forms of protest or opinions that disagree with theirs, and the President Elect jumps to his Twitter account to blast anyone who insults or criticizes him. Nothing in American history is comparable to the thin-skinned inability to tolerate dissent that is happening now.

In our country we have seldom had to fear that the outcome of an election could erase liberty, but it is possible now. Jackson noted, “One’s right to life, liberty, and property depends on the outcome of no election.” But it seems that this election may test that premise, the premise that Jackson so eruditely enunciated:

“The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy. One’s right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly may not be submitted to vote; they depend on no elections.”

I do fear for what the future holds because of the many statements made by Donald Trump and his supporters during the campaign and even after. While I am willing to give the new President the benefit of the doubt, and hope that he will rise to the occasion, I wonder if that will happen, and for now I wait, and I send up warnings from history.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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