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The Continued Erosion of America’s Moral Authority: Tillerson to Shut Down War Crimes Office

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It seems to me that the Trump administration is doing everything it can to corrode any remaining moral authority that the United States has in the world. Yesterday I read that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will disestablish the office that investigates potential war crimes. Though seemingly small in comparison to the many other actions the administration is taking this one speaks volumes about the attitudes of Trump, Tillerson, and others in the administration.

Tillerson has been working to concentrate the activities of the State Department on pursuing opportunities for American business and strengthening the U.S. Military. To do so he has been shutting down sections of the State Department that deal with U.S. Aid, humanitarian intervention, human rights, and world poverty. The decision to close the office which was founded in 1997 after the human catastrophes in the Balkans and the Rwandan Genocide is a major step backward.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who was the senior American prosecutor and organizer of the Major War Crime Trials and Nuremberg noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Sadly, after all of Jackson and his team’s efforts at Nuremberg the United States stepped back from participation in International tribunals or the International Criminal Court. Tillerson’s decision is a further step back from the norms of civilized behavior and a step towards increased barbarism.

David Scheffer, who served as the first U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes and now teaches at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, told Foreign Policy: “This is a very harsh signal to the rest of the world that the United States is essentially downgrading the importance of accountability for the commission of atrocity crimes… This sends a strong signal to perpetrators of mass atrocities that the United States is not watching you anymore.”

I assume that is the case. The Trump administration has turned a blind eye to the Russian destabilization operations in the Ukraine, ignores the human rights violations of Saudi Arabia and is likely war crimes in Yemen, sends decidedly mixed messages on Syria, and voices his approval at the crimes of the Erdogan regime in Turkey and the actions of Philippine President Duarte.

It is apparent that President Trump, Secretary Tillerson, and possibly National Security Adviser McMaster have forgotten like so many Americans that the true power of the United States is not its economy, not its military power, but the ideals that it stands for, especially when they are most difficult. The administration has embraced the survival of the fittest philosophy of Charles Darwin and like the other totalitarian regimes which cluttered the Twentieth Century is throwing away the one thing that set the United States apart from other nations, the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the Four Freedoms. While our country may not have always lived up to them, they were why people respected the United States even when we failed to live up to them. Timothy Snyder wrote: A patriot… wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves.” The actions of the Secretary of State and President show that they are not patriots, but nationalists, willing to cast aside the lifeblood of what makes America great for material gain and personal power, as Snyder notes, they encourage us to be our worst and then tell us that we are the best.

It is important that we do not throw away what little credibility we have left, but the neither the President nor many in his administration seem to care. The administration bases its arguments on necessity and expedience and has no hesitation in lying repeatedly to justify its actions. But, as William Pitt the Younger noted: “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

Robert Reich correctly noted: “Our moral authority is as important, if not more important, than our troop strength or our high-tech weapons. We are rapidly losing that moral authority, not only in the Arab world but all over the world.”

I am afraid that the further men like Trump and Tillerson move towards eliminating the last vestiges of our diplomatic and legal moral authority, and toward a transactional view of nationalism in which only economic and military power count, that it will not be long before our military and economic power is used for evil. This is not to say that it hasn’t been used for that in our history, but most of the time there were checks and balances, as well as self-restraint that kept them from being even worse. With every decision like this those restraints fall away and we edge closer to tyranny.So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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When the Unthinkable Arrives


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that is terrifying to be a historian who has specialized in the study of tyrannical regimes. This is the case with me. Even since my undergraduate study working under Dr. Helmut Huessler at California State University Northridge I have studied the transition of society from democracy to dictatorship. While my studies then and ever since focused on the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the fact is that what happened in Germany was not unique, it is a part of the human condition and the people of any country can find themselves under the foot of a dictatorship if the conditions are right. I believe that conditions in the United States have never been more ripe for dictatorship than they are today. 

As chaos continues to engulf the House of Trump, as investigations regarding Trump’s relations with Russia gain steam, and as his poll numbers crash, I become more concerned that the unthinkable will happen and we will suddenly be in a major war or hit by a major terror attack. I believe that if or when one or the other happen that the Trump regime will use it to suspend civil rights and liberties and maybe even suspend Congress and the courts in the name of security. Sadly, I think that in such a case that very few people would resist. Of course the 35-40% of people that would support him as he said, even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue would be at the forefront, but many other people would follow all because they are afraid and desire security more than freedom. 

Now this is not all Trump’s doing as for the last three decades many of those that now support him, especially the leaders of the Religious Right, Fox News, and radio and internet demagogues have prepared the ground for his rise. 

Dr. Timothy Snyder, the historian from Yale has warned us in his book On Tyranny. He noted:

“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. 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 political 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.”

Human beings are the one constant in history, and human nature is very consistent when it comes to how we respond when under attack. One only has to think of the fear that followed the 9-11 attacks and the willingness of people to give the government vast new powers, including an authorization for the use of military for against Al Qaida which has not been updated or supplemented since 2001, despite the fact that many of the places our military are operating in today have nothing to do with Al Qaida. 

I believe that the chances of such a think happening have gone up exponentially since the President and the Executive branch have not filled many critical ambassadorships, as well as thousands of key billets in the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. Likewise, despite all it’s bluster about strengthening the military nothing significant has occurred and will not occur because it cannot. This is because of the the policy of sequestration enacted by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Likewise, with its callous treatment of our allies and lack of concern about Russian interference in American elections, and in Europe the administration has weakened us at home and abroad. 

This is a very dangerous time and every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that our Republic as we knew it dies. I do not know if this will be the result of a war with North Korea or Iran, or possibly a major terror attack, but as things spiral out of control I cannot shake the feeling that we are going to have our Reichstag Fire moment, and that we will not rise to the challenge. Instead I think that most Americans will give up freedom in the name of security simply because that is human nature and has been demonstrated throughout history on every continent. James Madison noted: 

“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

Now is a time that we must all be awake and aware of what is going on in our country and the world. The storm clouds are building and we most be cognizant of the times or be engulfed and overwhelmed when the unthinkable arrives. That may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is necessary. 

I would like to believe that I will be proven wrong and honestly I want to be proven wrong because I do not want our nation to have to endure war, terrorism, and a tyrannical despotism. 

So, until tomorrow I wish you a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Arrogance, Ignorance, Incompetence, and Dangers to National Insecurity 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote: “Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.” 

Just a few words today as the dealings of the closest family members and associates of President Trump continue to ensure that his campaign’s relationships with multiple Russian contacts likely connected to the Putin regime will dominate our lives for quite a while. I’m not going to write much today because this story is going to gain traction until the President is either impeached or resigns from office, unless he blunders us into a big war, or there is a terrorist attack that allows him to get his own Reichstag Fire opportunity. 

Columnist Bob Herbert once wrote: ”

“There are few things more dangerous than a mixture of power, arrogance and incompetence. We are seeing that today with the members of the Trump administration and their true believer followers. The revelation of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails with Russian contacts and his meeting with them along with Trump’s campaign manager and son-in-law at a time when the President and all of his advisers denied all contacts with anyone related to Russia are astounding and reveal more than a smoking gun, but a complete disregard of American national security. Winning an elected appears to have mattered more to them than their county, the principles of our democracy, and our national security. 

Personally I am hard pressed as a former Reagan Republican and Cold Warrior to believe how anyone can defend the President’s proclivity to prefer Putin to our allies in NATO, and his willingness to throw NATO, American Intelligence agencies, diplomats, and law enforcement under the bus to defend Putin and his dictatorship. But they are and paradoxically had a Democrat been accused of one iota of what is being revealed about Trump’s family connections to the Russian interference in the American electoral process these same people would be calling for immediate impeachment. But they don’t care because they have so linked their fortunes to Trump that they cannot back down. As things get worse they will become more desperate but few of the True believers, mostly Evangelical Christians, will defect. They will fight to the end. 

That makes him and them very dangerous. They will create such chaos that it will undermine national security and leave us vulnerable to whatever the Russians or any other enemy might want to do, because the President will be so compromised that nobody will believe a word that he says. That poses danger to Americans around the world, our various allies, and to us at home. Well before there was any smoking gun I have been warning about the dangers posed by the arrogant, ignorant, and incompetence shown by the President and his closest advisors. 

Isaac Asimov wrote something that we should pay close attention to. He said “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” 

I worry that this administration and its true believer followers will resort to violence backed by the power of the state to maintain power. I would very much like to be wrong but there is nothing that the administration has done to assuage my fears. This is not good, it is not normal, and it is dangerous for all of us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pastor Robert Jeffress and the Imperial Evangelical Church of Trump


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well it is Sunday and I’ll be the guest preacher in my Protestant chapel service at the base as I did last week. Since then I’ve been thinking over the week about what it means to be an American Christian at this point in our history. Frankly, based on the words of the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, Robert Jeffress, I must not be one because according to him Christian critics of Presdent Trump are “irrelevant to Christians.” That may be so and even if it is than I will continue to speak out against the idolatry of Pastor Jeffress and the other proponents of an imperial evangelicalism that is little more than an American version of the German Christian movement that went all in for Adolf Hitler. Pastor Jeffress would be an ideal candidate for the office of Reichs Bishop when President Trump proclaims Evangelical Christianity as the State Church. 

As for me I say the hell with those who want to establish the bastardized evangelicalism that we know today as the official state sanctioned version of Christianity. For those who don’t think that is likely or possible you are wrong. The words and actions of the President, the Vice President, a number of cabinet members, and many members of Congress all point to this. But worst of all men like Jeffress and most of the leading popular evangelical pastors and evangelists in the county are working toward that end and the day that it finally happens is coming sooner than you think. A minority of Christians who are better at making former Christians, agnostics, and atheists than disciples of Jesus want nothing more than to gain political power and are willing to use the most base and unchristian President in recent memory as their vehicle to temporal power. 

Barry Goldwater, the scion of the modern Conservative movement warned us about them over thirty years ago in the Senate chambers when he said: “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.” After he left the Senate he told John Dean: 

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Sadly, Goldwater was right. Jeffress and others want no more than to use the power that they have with President Trump to rule with an iron fist that is no different than that of the Taliban, and no no different than the inquisition. 

Likewise the late Senator Mark Hatfield, an Evangelical Christian himself noted:

“As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.”  

It is time for people who actually believe in the sacred principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, the Four Freedoms, and the I Have a Dream speech to stand. It does not matter if you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, agnostic, atheist, or Free Thinker, or for that matter anything except being an American that cherishes liberty for all. 

The late George Truett, a great Southern Baptist pastor, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and also the pastor of Jeffress’s Fist Baptist Church of Dallas until 1944, wrote something that anyone with any sense and understanding of history and church-state relations should take note of:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

President Trump has recognized the same thing and with the help of the vast majority of American Evangelicals he is doing the same thing as Constantine and men like Robert Jeffress are to vain and power hungry to understand that they are sealing the doom of the Christian faith in the United States. That is why I will not stop writing, not stop speaking, and not stop fighting. I may be to use the words of Jeffress an insignificant and irrelevant gnat to him and the President but I’ll be damned if I let men like them use Jesus as a vehicle for tyranny. I’ll be damned when I let a political preacher like Jeffress stand on the same platform as the President and use it to condemn fellow Christians. as his very own church choir debates a hymn entitled Make America Great Again, a song which is a hymn of praise not to Jesus but to the nationalistic jingoism of President Trump. His predecessor in the pulpit of First Baptist, George Truett would be dismayed by the actions of the man who now holds that pulpit. 

Likewise our nation’s founders would be dismayed but not surprised to see this going on. Many wrote about the danger of it and did their best to build up a wall of separation, but that wall is being dismantled before our very eyes. When it is gone we will all regret it, and yes by all I even include the Evangelical Christians who now worship at the altar of Robert Jeffress and Donald Trump. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Survival as What? President Trump’s Warsaw Speech


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I have just a few thoughts about President Trump’s Warsaw speech as well as some of his other comments while in Poland. 

I know people have different opinions about the speech but my greatest concern was that while the President spoke of “defending Western civilization” he never once mentioned the ideals that are at the heart of the United States. He never talked about what is written in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution or appealing to those documents as well as the ideals of our founders or his predecessors, not even Ronald Reagan. Instead it was similar to his dystopian Inaugural Address on a global level. Likewise during and after the speech he continued his attacks on the free press, something that his Polish host has been doing since he took office. 

It reminded me of the “blood and soil” speeches of Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis and it appealed to a concept of white, European, Christian that has more in common with Nazi and other Fascist movements, as well as the “noble Confederacy,” the Lost Cause, and White nationalism than it has to do with the promise of the United States and its ideals. The thing that the President does not seem to grasp is that no enemy can conquer this nation if we live up to the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln said it well on more than one occasion: 

“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.”

But even more to the point Lincoln noted something that the President does not understand or appreciate: 

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

The President has frequently threatened those freedoms as he attacks his opponents and disparagesAmericans, including military, intelligence, and law enforcement officials or agencies who disagree with him. At the G-20 summit he appeared to have given Vladimir Putin a pass on the well documented Russian efforts to influence and interfere with the 2016 general election. It is troubling for me to see our President give more credence to a thug like Putin than to American intelligence officials, military officers, and diplomats. The things that the President often says, especially on Twitter are more often than not directed at Americans and our closest allies are troubling because it seems that he is more willing to believe the words of a sworn enemy of the United States than to believe Americans. Likewise when he talks uses terms that make me think of Spencer Tracy in the film Judgment at Nuremberg. In that film Tracy took aim at those who surrendered freedom for security and those who would at the same time blame minority groups for the nation’s ills and those who would use the same tactics as our enemies would. In doing so he will destroy what this nation was founded upon and there will be no easy righting of the ship of state. 

In the film during the scene where Spencer Tracy pronounces judgment on a German jurist played by Burt Lancaster. It is a riveting moment as Tracy says these words. They are important so I will leave you with them and wish you a good day.

“But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Our Liberty Depends on Freedom of the Press

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Benjamin Franklin wrote: Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” This is true in any nation, but especially so in a democracy like ours. Our founders understood the vital importance of a free press to the health of the nation, and they understood that people had to be educated so that they might be able to discern truth from lies. Thomas Jefferson underscored this fact when he wrote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

There is a terrible threat to the freedom of the press today. One comes from the government. Well before he took office President Trump began to openly threaten the freedom of the press. Since he took office he has increased his attacks on the press as a whole and against individual journalists. Likewise his surrogates do the same and twist the very meaning of the Constitution in order to justify their attacks on it.

The fact is that such actions are the key to dictatorship. It is evident that the attacks are meant to discredit the press and to make the people suspicious of the one non-governmental source of information that our founders insisted as being absolutely vital to our freedom as Americans. Jefferson said so when he wrote: Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

But the other threat to the freedom of the press comes from a populace that is unable to understand the basic workings of our form of government and who will not accept or tolerate opinions different from their own. Such is grist in the hands of leaders who despise the constitutional liberties granted to all Americans, not just their interest groups or supporters, as well the very proposition that our nation was founded upon; the proposition in the Declaration that “all men are created equal…”

But despots of all types despise a free press, and fear it. Napoleon Bonaparte once remarked that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” This is why tyrants fear the press. A Southern critic of slavery, Hinton Helper wrote “Slavery tolerates no freedom of the press, no freedom of speech, no freedom of opinion.”

In our history there have been times when free speech and a free press were banned. One of the most notable times was during the debates about slavery during the 1830s and 1840s as the abolitionist movement began to be more vocal. They attempted to silence dissent in Congress, and beginning in 1836 the House of Representatives, led by Southern members of Congress passed a “gag rule” for its members. The “Gag Rule” “banned all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers related in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery.”

Likewise they attempted to quash any opposition to slavery in the press at the federal and state level. In response to the proliferation of abolitionist literature in the South which was being sent through the mail, Senator John C. Calhoun proposed that Congress pass a law to prosecute “any postmaster who would “knowingly receive or put into the mail any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or any printed, written, or pictorial representation touching the subject of slavery.” Calhoun was not alone as other members of Congress as well as state legislatures worked to restrict the import of what they considered subversive and dangerous literature.

Critics of a free press often point to times where the press has failed its duty and there are times that it has. There have been partisans who have used the press to inflame opinion rather than to inform. That being said, people need to be able to discern truth from error, they need to understand their form of government and its checks and balances. The press has the responsibility of reporting and educating. The press can bear legitimate criticism when it is wrong or acts in bad faith, but the answer is not to suppress the opinions of any government critic, especially the press whose duty it is to keep the government and its leaders honest. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote: Freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of a free society.”

But even with the flaws of the press our founders understood it to be absolutely vital to the American experiment and to humanity. James Madison wrote: To the press alone, chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.”

Likewise, Benjamin Franklin wrote:

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics…derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”

To silence the press, to restrict its access, to ban negative reporting about the government, or to attempt to delegitimize and demonize press opponents destroys a necessary pillar of a free government. Once a free press is silenced that which remains serves only as a propaganda organ for the government, incapable of telling the truth. This is why it is so important; a free press is not about the freedoms of journalists to speak, but of a people to be informed. During the height of the controversy of the publication of the Pentagon Papers which exposed the years of lies the government had been telling about the American involvement in Vietnam which the government tried to suppress, the late executive editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee told Dick Cavett that freedom of the press was “not the right, exclusively, of a few people who have chosen journalism as a career. That isn’t what the hell it’s about… “It’s about your right to read, your right to be informed.”

Freedom of the press must be guarded and cherished, and it is under some of the most malicious attacks today that it has ever experienced in our nation. It is something that must be defended despite its shortfalls and the various biases of different news organizations, and it is up to citizens to know their form of government and to be smart enough to recognize when news is, to use the current word, fake.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Stand by Those Principles, Against All Foes, At Any Cost: Independence Day 2017


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

That founding principle was revolutionary and regardless of how badly it was many times lived out in the history of our nation, it was and still is the first time that a nation was not founded on the basis of ethnicity or religion, but rather a principle, a proposition that no matter how noble was, and still is often despised by Americans. 

One of the most notable was George Fitzhugh, a major Southern slaveholder and apologist for not only slavery but the inequality of poor whites and women wrote: 

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

Fitzhugh also wrote: 

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

But he was not alone. In 1860 South Carolina led a procession of 11 states out of the Union based on the proposition that only certain men were created equal. Every declaration of secession had at its heart the statement that the institution of slavery was to be protected and expanded with the implication that African American slaves could never be equal, free, or enjoy the slightest legal protections of citizenship. These states were willing to fight a war for this and even at the end of that war many of their leaders resisted any call for granting emancipation to blacks, and then when that was over use terrorism and law to again strip away the rights from newly freed blacks through lynching, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow. 

In 1852 not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act which dictated that Northerners had to cooperate in the recapture and reenslavement of blacks residing in their free states, Frederick Douglass preached one of the most damning sermons about what July 4th meant to slaves. He said:

“I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.” 

Even so men like Fitzhugh would proclaim: “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.”

Of course such is not liberty, it is tyranny and it is the seedbed of dictatorship. The word liberty is often abused by those who seek total power and control over the lives of others. Abraham Lincoln said as much when he noted: 

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” 

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

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

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

So today, on this 241st anniversary of our independence when the rights of citizenship, the rights of suffrage, the rights of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech are under assault for the man occupying the highest office in the land I do not despair. I do not despair because the spirit of liberty still lives in my heart as it does many others who still believe in that sacred and revolutionary proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

In the darkness of 1852 Frederick Douglass said these words to people who at the time were refused citizenship and who were enslaved:  

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

May we not forget those words on this day when the founding proposition of our country is under attack. 

Cherish our independence and never stop believing in or fighting for liberty. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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