Tag Archives: On Tyranny

Fear, Paranoia, Trump, Evil, and the Absence Of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every day that I see a tweet or hear President Donald Trump go into incoherent

streams of banal blathering I am reminded that the man has no ability to empathize with any other human being, even his family. It does not matter whether it is people suffering in a hurricane, people who have seen mass numbers of family and friends murdered by domestic terrorists, labeling racial and religious minorities as terrorists, criminals, animals, or vermin; or encouraging violence against political opponents and the press at his rallies, he always makes things about him, and plays to the fears of his base.

His lies are often whoppers and those he has been proven by many organizations to have lied or distorted the truth well over 10,000 times during his presidency, often to the detriment of his policies and programs, and which subvert the alliances and treaties that help to keep America great.

I cannot imagine any other American President with such an absence of empathy. He displays all the traits of a narcissistic sociopath, devoid of empathy or the capacity to love anyone other than himself. Everything else is fungible to him. He has no real friends, only temporary partners, and that includes his multiple wives and paramours.

Yet for some reason the bulk of the Republican establishment and its conservative Christian base not only supports him but make up theological jibber-jabber to justify their support on the thinnest Biblical support, usually biblical verses or stories taken completely out of context. But he appeals to their fears, and I doubt that they will abandon him unless the economy completely collapses leaving them destitute, in which case they will likely blame whoever he blames and still support him, just like so many religious people who in other nations have tied their religion to despots.

Believe me, religious people of any faith can live to the highest and most commendable humanitarian deeds as a result of their faith, while others can sink to depravity which only true believers can sink.

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

Whitehead was right, and the latter will follow the President into the abyss. The American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Sadly, such people are capable of anything. Historian Timothy Snyder reminded us shortly after President Trump’s Election reminded us in his book On Tyranny: 

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

Last night I wrote about the uncomfortable necessity of trying to understand evil, its causes and those who perpetuate and encourage it, including the current American President, a man incapable of feeling for others, or taking responsibility for his words and actions. The same is true of many of his supporters. Gustave Gilbert who served as a psychologist to the major war crimes defendants at Nuremberg noted:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

The President has a dark Charisma which his devout followers find irresistible, and since he is not a fringe character, but the leader of one of the most powerful countries on the planet, this is not something that we can easily dismiss. Nor can we dismiss the ever increasing power of the Executive branch of the government,  the specialization and distancing of bureaucrats from the policies they implement, and the pressure of pastors, employers, family, church members, and party officials on people who would normally not harm a fly. However, as 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.”

While President Trump is a catalyst for many of the things happening in the country and the world, he is not the cause. The seeds have been planted for decades by preachers, pundits, and politicians that specialize in promoting fear and paranoia in their followers.

The late American historian, 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.”

This is important at a time of increasing economic uncertainly, a world where the old stable democratic orders are under attack, the paranoia increases, along with it fear, racism, and war across the spectrum. A leader who encourages violence and turns every issue into a personal animus only emboldens his followers.

Historian Christopher Browning wrote of this in his book Ordinary Men:

“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.”

Holocaust survivor and philosopher Primo Levi warned us of them, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Whether President Trump wins re-election or doesn’t the danger will not decrease. Many of his followers, and many Trump himself may refuse to stand aside if he loses. some threatening civil war if he loses. But, if he wins he has the power to further dismantle the Constitutional guardrails that have been the protectors of our political system, as well as turn all the instruments of power into his personal weapons. He is already doing so. This is the practice of tyrants throughout history.

Anyway, I’m done for the night as we wait for Hurricane Dorian to reach us sometime overnight. Having been through quite a number of hurricanes in North Carolina and Virginia I know how dangerous they are. My heart is with all of Dorian’s victims in Bermuda and in the Southeastern United States. I have many friends in harm’s way. I cannot ignore their suffering, unlike the President, and many of his minion.

So until tomorrow, as long as we weather the storm without major power outages, flooding, or storm damage, I will write again.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Nuremberg at National Harbor: CPAC 2019

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On March 5th 1933 the Nazi Party secured enough seats in the German Reichstag to form a coalition government with the German People’s Nationalist Party (DVNP). The Nazis won 43.9% of the vote in an election in which Hitler expected to gain an absolute majority. Hitler had gained power through the appointment of President Hindenburg on January 30th following a series of failed attempts by Conservative party leaders to form a stable government. In the month preceding the election Hitler gained the upper hand when a Dutch Communist, acting alone set fire to the Reichstag building. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”

In the wake of the Reichstag Fire and under Article 48 of the the Reichstag Fire Decree Hitler mobilized 50,000 SA and SS men as auxiliary police in Prussia. Opposition parties were harassed, their newspapers shut down, leaders, especially Communists, jailed. Hermann Goering issued an order that police could open fire on any opposition. One really couldn’t call it free, but it would be the last contested election held in Germany until after her defeat and Hitler’s death.

Within two weeks the now Nazi controlled Reichstag voted for the Enabling Act, a law that in effect made it obsolete. The Act gave Hitler dictatorial powers, powers he would never willingly give up.

Within three months all the other German political parties were either banned or dissolved themselves. Independent newspapers were closed, or placed under Nazi propaganda supervision. Members of racial or religious minorities were persecuted and saw their citizenship rights curtailed or abolished. Political opponents or dissenting pastors and priests were placed in Concentration Camps.

Less than two weeks ago President Trump declared a National Emergency on the Southern Border with Mexico in order to build his wall. He is also working to overthrow Venezuelan Dictator Maduro, of itself not particularly objectionable as Maduro is a tyrant, unfortunately the President is not taking steps to deal with the huge number of refugees that any move to overthrow Maduro will bring. Tens of thousands of people will head to our border to be met with rejection. There is little morality or strategic sense to it.

I won’t go into the influence of foreign governments working on the President’s behalf in 2016 now, that will be exposed by any number of ongoing investigations as well as those beginning in the House of Representatives.

The was a poll that came out today that said that four in ten people would vote to re-elect President Trump, a man who Saturday led a rally of cult like followers, malcontents, religious fanatics, conspiracy theorists, and hate filled propagandists. The President’s speech was full of racist tropes, scurrilous accusations, profanity, and lie after lie. He threatened opponents, including those of his own party.

The President appeared possessed, as if he was under the influence of Amphetamines. It was frightening to watch, more so than any speech I have ever seen him give, and I actually attended one of his rallies in October 2016. I compared it to a Nuremberg Party Rally, the kind that followed Hitler’s takeover.

I mused upon the numbers, 43.9%, not even a majority of the vote, just like 2016 when he lost the popular voted by over 3 million votes. The President’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen warned us last week that if Trump loses the election, that there will not be a smooth transition of power. Neither Trump nor his followers will abide it.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The hero of a David Lodge novel says that you don’t know, when you make love for the last time, that you are making love for the last time. Voting is like that. Some of the Germans who voted for the Nazi Party in 1932 no doubt understood that this might be the last meaningfully free election for some time, but most did not. Some of the Czechs and Slovaks who voted for the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1946 probably realized that they were voting for the end of democracy, but most assumed they would have another chance. No doubt the Russians who voted in 1990 did not think that this would be the last free and fair election in their country’s history, which (thus far) it has been. Any election can be the last, or at least the last in the lifetime of the person casting the vote.”

Imagine, a militant minority led by an unstable and volatile con man ruling in an authoritarian state after overwhelming its Constitution and institutions. It is already beginning.

Milton Mayer wrote of an encounter with a German colleague at a German University after the war. His friend noted:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

So take these words into your hearts and minds. “Resist the beginnings… Consider the end.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“My Oath did not Expire When I took off the Uniform” Ralph Peters Resigns from Fox News

Army-Lt.-Col.-Ralph-Peters-ret-on-Fox-News-screencap-800x430

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have called Fox News and many of its hosts a propaganda network for some time. At one time, back in the late 1990s and up until I went to Iraq in July of 2007 I watched Fox nearly nonstop along with my daily diet of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the radio. It took a number of years of their listening incessantly to their propaganda before I became revulsed by it while serving in Iraq.

Sitting in a dining facility late one evening after coming back from an intensive mission I saw some Fox News talking heads discussing the war on a television. What they were discussing was pure propaganda and had no relationship to what was going on in that country. At that point I made up my mind that what I had tried to believe was true was all lies; lies spun by the Bush administration and aided by the supposedly “Fair and Balanced” team at Fox News. When I returned home in 2008 every time I heard a Fox pundit or saw them on the news I became very angry. To this day I cannot watch them and when I see the lies and propaganda that they spread today I can only compare many of their hosts to the propagandists of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, except neither the Nazis or the Soviets claimed to be ‘fair and balanced.”

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to find out that retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters quit his post as a commentator for Fox. I met him in 1999 not long after I had transferred from the Army to the Navy and was serving at Camp LeJeuene with the Second Marine Division. Peters was doing a book tour for his first non-fiction title Fighting for the Future, and I got to meet and talk to him at the bookstore in the Main Exchange. He had enlisted in the Army five years before me and was commissioned three years before me. Both of us had served tours in Germany. He was an Intelligence officer with a specialization on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. I was a history major who in the wisdom of the Army assignment gods had been branched as a Medical Service Corps officer. Peters retired in 1998 as I was preparing to leave the Army for the Navy.

He certainly, like many military officers is very conservative but at the same time a realist. While initially supporting the war in Iraq he would become a critic by 2006 and in 2009 recommend pulling out of Afghanistan. He recently stated that assault weapons should be banned, something that is anathema to Fox and most of its loyal viewers.

Peters thought that President Obama was too soft on Putin and Russia, and despite being a big supporter of President Obama I had to agree with him. I think that while President Obama was in a no-win situation had he confronted and opposed Putin in 2016, he could have done more in 2015, and despite being in a no-win situation politically in 2016 that he should have hammered Putin and exposed the Russian attempts to undermine the country and elect Trump in 2016. His actions were too little and too late.

In his resignation from Fox, Peters showed something that is seldom seen in the media. He demonstrated courage and honor over personal gain. He had a good following on Fox and certainly could have stayed at the network and continued to make good money. But he finally hit the point with them that I hit in 2007, his honor and his commitment to his office would not allow him to stay.

His resignation latter was published by Buzzfeed on Tuesday. It is one of the most remarkable resignation letters I have ever read. It was an indictment of Fox and many of its hosts and commentators as pure propagandists “for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.” I heartily agree with him. I have posted his letter in its entirety below.

On March 1st, I informed Fox that I would not renew my contract. The purpose of this message to all of you is twofold:

First, I must thank each of you for the cooperation and support you’ve shown me over the years. Those working off-camera, the bookers and producers, don’t often get the recognition you deserve, but I want you to know that I have always appreciated the challenges you face and the skill with which you master them.

Second, I feel compelled to explain why I have to leave. Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to “support and defend the Constitution,” and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin’s agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign. Despite increasingly pathetic denials, it turns out that the “nothing-burger” has been covered with Russian dressing all along. And by the way: As an intelligence professional, I can tell you that the Steele dossier rings true–that’s how the Russians do things.. The result is that we have an American president who is terrified of his counterpart in Moscow.

I do not apply the above criticisms in full to Fox Business, where numerous hosts retain a respect for facts and maintain a measure of integrity (nor is every host at Fox News a propaganda mouthpiece–some have shown courage). I have enjoyed and valued my relationship with Fox Business, and I will miss a number of hosts and staff members. You’re the grown-ups.

Also, I deeply respect the hard-news reporters at Fox, who continue to do their best as talented professionals in a poisoned environment. These are some of the best men and women in the business..

So, to all of you: Thanks, and, as our president’s favorite world leader would say, “Das vidanya.”

The various oaths that I have sworn to the Constitution, first as an enlisted man and then as a Commissioned Officer in the Army, the Army National Guard, the Army Reserve, and the Navy are foundational to my life. I have served under six Presidents. I have agreed and disagreed with the various policies and positions of the first five, but never did I think that any of them were truly a threat to the Constitution and the foundation of the country as I believe that President Trump and his administration are such a threat.

It is my adherence to the Constitution; the radical proposition of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I could add the Gettysburg Address in which Abraham Lincoln gave new life to the propositions of the Declaration and the preamble of the Constitution. Now is the time for every American to be as recommit themselves to those ideals or lose them forever.

The President and his propagandists at Fox News are not patriots. One can place a thousand flags behind them or adorn the lapels of their suit jackets with American flag pins, but that does not mean that they are patriots. Patriots stand for those principles, and the Constitution; all of it, not just the parts that they agree with while working to undermine the protections of the Constitution to those who they may hate or disapprove.

In his book On Tyranny Dr Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

Ralph Peters is a patriot whether you agree or disagree with him on various issues. He did the right thing for the right reason. Some may think that it took him too long to do so, but just how many others in the Fox News and Right Wing media vortex or the Republican Party have stated the truth as Lieutenant Colonel Peters did? Even those who publicly disagree with the President, with nothing to lose, often equivocate and show that they are cowards when after they say that they will stand against him, simply slink away until the next time.

So until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Mistaken Assumptions: Yes Elected Officials Can Destroy the Institutions that Helped them to Power

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since it is late, we were out with a couple from my chapel’s Catholic congregation enjoying a wonderful meal at our favorite Mexican restaurant, just a short thought for the day.

I read President Trump’s words in his speech and in his tweets over the weekend excoriating what he calls the journalists who write “fake news” in order to discredit him. As I watched his speech online, then read it as well as his tweets and the words of his surrogates I was reminded of historian Timothy Snyder’s words in his book On Tyranny. Snyder wrote:

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

President Trump has since the beginning of his campaign promised to destroy the institutions that helped him to the presidency. He and his surrogates seem to be working overtime to accomplish that by attacking the press, the courts, the military and intelligence services, the diplomatic corps, law enforcement; particularly the FBI and Special Prosecutor Robert Muller.

We are looking at a full fledged Constitutional crisis and truthfully I wonder if we will survive it, even if the President does not blunder us into a war with North Korea which would be the most deadly and destructive war waged since the Second World War. Yet he and his supporters do not seem to care, and for the most part many Americans regardless of their political leanings don’t seem to realize just how close we are to full fledged war.

But I digress, even if the war doesn’t come the President and his supporters will destroy the institutions of our Republic simply because they only care about their political and economic power. The country and the vast majority of its citizens be damned.

So until tomorrow, when I plan on writing about our night I wish you all the best,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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