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Reflections on Life as an Authoritarian State Arises

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are visiting friends in the Washington DC area as we get ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary Monday. It is nice to be relaxing with each other, another friend who is down from Pennsylvania and combined flock of 12 Papillon dogs, three of which are ours. Everyone but me has now gone to their bedrooms while I sip a glass of McClelland’s Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskey with my little boy Pierre at my side, all 4.8 pounds of him. That’s a good thing.

Since tomorrow’s weather forecast is for continued rain I will probably watch World Cup games, read and spend time with Judy, our friends and the Papillons. If the weather is good Sunday Monday hope to take Judy to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Monday night we will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary with our friends. Depending on the weather I hope to get some decent runs and walks in along the Potomac River.

Likewise, despite all that is going on try to take a break from the incessant pounding of crises manufactured by the President and the chaos that he uses to increase his personal power over his administration, the Congress, the media, and yes all of us. Sadly, none of this is going away anytime soon and it will likely become much worse before it gets better; such is the nature of fledgling dictatorships. Even today he demonized all immigrants as criminals and their supporters as being against the rule of law and his supporters applaud as the leaders of his political party cower before him. Eric Hoffer wrote:

Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.

The words and actions of the President and his supporters bear this out, they claim to be making America great again but they are destroying the very fabric of the ideals on which the nation was founded.

He did this as his administration and immigration agencies imprisons thousands of children, refuses to reunite them with their families, makes plans for camps on military bases to house nearly 150,000 immigrants, sets up checkpoints on American highways demanding that travelers have proof of citizenship, details military JAG officers with no experience in immigration law to serve as Acting US Attorneys to prosecute immigrants.

At a publicity stunt Friday the President compared all immigrants from south of the border to criminals by parading the survivors of people killed by illegals and spouting absolute lies about the number of crimes committed by immigrants, legal and illegal alike. He then took the time to sign his name on the pictures of the victims of those crimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for the victims of any violent crime. I have stood over the bodies of men, women, and children killed by the bullets of criminals and tried to console their survivors. I did that so many times that I have lost count of the number.

Likewise I have been the victim of violent crime. I was held up at gunpoint with my wife and her family when we were dating and had a pistol pointed at my head as I sat in the back seat of a car unable to go after the gunman without risking the lives of Judy and her parents. I have also had my liefe threatened by White Supremacist for things that I have written, one that was so specific that I reported it to both the local police and the FBI. But in all cases the people who attacked or threatened me were native born Americans.

In the President’s view if you are killed by a dark skinned immigrant your families are called “Angel Families” but if you are killed by an American you and your family do not exist because you serve no political purpose. That my friends is a fact and the statistics show that far more violent crimes are committed by Americans than all immigrants and most actual cases of domestic terrorism in the United States are committed by White Supremacists, and mass murders including those at schools, businesses, entertainment venues, churches or other places of worship are committed by White people, not immigrants. But those go largely unheralded by the President, except for incidental tweets that express thoughts and prayers and praise of law enforcement.

But that is how incipient dictatorships behave. Certain groups are targets, demonized and compared to the worst examples. In the parlance of Trump they are all murderers, rapists, terrorists, gang members, and drug dealers. This behavior runs rampant in dictatorships and authoritarian states. The President has persistently and insidiously invoked that immigrants are evil. Hoffer wrote:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

That has been happening since the day that President Trump announced his candidacy for President and it is no secret. Mexicans were the first devil of his campaign, and he called them criminals, murderers and rapists on the day that he announced his candidacy. The videos of his speeches, his manifold number of Tweets, and the actions of his administration are all too widely available not to be found by anyone seeking the truth about him, but for his most fervent supporters all of those facts are fake, even if he said them in front of millions of people.

Now, events in the United States and at our borders have shown that the President was absolutely correct about his followers when he said that they would continue “to follow him even if he shot somebody on 5th Avenue.”

My friends, it is not going to get any better and we better be ready for what comes next or we will be swept away in the flood of lies and evil to come. Despite his buffoonery, one cannot underestimate the potential evil of the President and his followers. Likewise do not assume that a Blue Wave will happen in November because there may be events that occur which will allow the President to use executive orders enacted by his predecessors during the height of the Cold War and the potential of nuclear war to postpone elections or rule by decree. I refer to this as a Reichstag Fire moment.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

“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.”

We live in a very perilous time where the vision of our founders could be overturned in the blink of an eye and our Republic, as flawed as it is, but always has embraced the ideal of building a more perfect union will perish from the face of the earth. The nation and people may remain, but the ideal will be gone and with it the Republic.

So until tomorrow or the next post, have a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Resist the Dystopian Law and Order of Trump or be Condemned by History

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I love the virtues of the law. When I was in seminary I had friends who asked me why I wasn’t in law school and they didn’t mean it as a compliment. In high school and college debate classes I could be assigned to debate for positions that I abhorred and destroy my opponents by using precedent, history, and even appealing to emotion. Honestly had I not felt a real call to the ministry and later the priesthood I would have become a lawyer, which is something that I occasionally think about doing but at my age I find little motivation to follow, I think that as a priest, historian, and stand-up philosopher and ethicist I can do more with the time required to become a lawyer at my age, but I digress…

The problem is that I see far too many people, especially those in power to be all in favor of being for “law and order” and harsh actions against those alleged lawbreakers while not only excusing, but wholeheartedly supporting the most lawless of Presidents and his policies, almost all of which are based on the most unconstitutional, undemocratic, and inhuman ideas seen in a Western nation since the time of Hitler. To be a “law and order” supporter of President Trump one must subscribe to racism, sexism, homophobia, paranoia, nationalism, and scorn for humanity and even the law itself. If you do not subscribe to that, if you dissent in any way you are an enemy of the President and since the President equates personal loyalty with patriotism an enemy of the state.

Let’s revisit a little bit of history.

The founding fathers of the United States were considered lawbreakers, traitors, and rebels by King George III and his government. One of my distant ancestors. Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville, then serving as Lord Advocate and a member of the House of Lords called them traitors to the Crown. He actually coined the word starvation because he recommended that the rebellious colonies be starved into submission, earning him the nickname of Starvation Dundas. But he was a law and order kind of guy.

In the years after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 people living in Free States could be prosecuted for harboring escaped slaves in the name of the law, even if they were in complete obedience to the laws of their home state. The fact is that at that time States rights only mattered if you were supporting the rights of Slave owners and Slave states. The Dred Scott decision showed this to be fact. To be law and order at that time one had to support white supremacy and the institution of slavery, even if you lived in a Free State. Please don’t get me started on the post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, you can read all of that in my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory’s: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era when it eventually gets published.

Let’s go now to an even more uncomfortable subject, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. To be law and order in the Nazi State was to support its racist laws. If you defended or harbored Jews, or for that matter even criticized the policies of the Nazi State you were a criminal. That was the case in Germany as well as the counties that it conquered or occupied. If you harbored or protected Jews you were a criminal. Conversely if you turned in a Jew or informed on their protectors you were obeying the law, thus those who hid and protected people like Anne Frank were criminals while those who turned her and her family in were obeying the law.

In our day President Trump, his administration, and his supporters have turned U.S. law, international law, and basic humanity and I dare say Christian morality on their head in regards to immigrants, legal and illegal alike; racial and ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ citizens, the free press, and political opponents. Most egregiously this is happening on the Southwestern border of the United States where thousands of children have been separated from their parents who are being prosecuted simply because they are seeking asylum and freedom in a country that they believe stands higher than the countries that they are fleeing.

The policies of the Trump administration are even worse than those of previous administrations, Republican and Democrat, none of which can be called truly humanitarian or in accordance with the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Instead our government and most Republicans have adopted the ideology of King George III and Starvation Dundas; that of the Know Nothings, that of the slaveholder, that of the Jim Crow segregationists, and worst of all that of the Nazi State.

To obey the law is to stand against the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Four Freedoms, as well as the principles laid down by the United States and its allies at Nuremberg where Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson stated before the trials ever started:

“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.”

Jackson’s words do not matter to this President or his loyal followers, nor of the words of the Declaration or the Constitution.

I do not recognize my country anymore and I hope almost beyond hope that something will stop our slide into the abyss that Trump and his supporters are bringing upon us. I have to agree with Major General Henning Von Tresckow, a Plotter against Hitler who died in the aftermath of Operation Valkyrie:

“I cannot understand how people can call themselves Christian and not be furious opponents of the Hitler regime.”

He also wrote:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Today we simply have to change one word in either of Von Tresckow’s quotes, Trump for Hitler and we also must seriously consider the words of Von Tresckow:

“A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give up his life in defense of his convictions.”

All of us have to show the world that we are not Trump’s America. If we do not we will most deserving of the condemnation of God and history on the United States.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Executive Orders and Final Solutions: the Hidden Evil of Trump’s Immigration Executive Order

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Holocaust survivor Primo Levy wrote:“ 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.”  

From any kind of moral, humanitarian, or for that matter Christian viewpoint is hard to stomach the actions and words of President Trump and his administration regarding the enforced separation of children from their parents.

Over the past few weeks and particularly over the past few days we have seen the Administration state fourteen different official positions on the policy. Almost all were bold-faced lies or were the telling of falsehoods with just a kernel of truth. Among those untruths were that the policies were based on court decisions, notably Flores v. Reno and the subsequent Flores Settlement; that it was based on laws enacted by Democrats and that Congress needed to change those laws; that the President could do nothing as his hands were tied by law and court decisions; that the policy was designed to use the children as bargaining chips to get funding for the border wall with Mexico; and even a claim by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security just yesterday that there was no policy directing the separation of children from their parents and housing them in cages.

Those claims including the repeated claims of the President himself were all destroyed by the President’s Executive Order ending the policy of separating migrant children from their parents. On the surface that looks like a win for the critics of the President and DHS, but it is not.

The Executive Order is designed to enable the Administration to indefinitely detain and imprison families and to hold the children of those families longer than the twenty days that Flores Settlement allows. The order instructs the Justice Department to:

The Attorney General shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Sessions, CV 85-4544 (“Flores settlement”), in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.

The DHS has stated that it no plans to reunite the children already detained and separated from their parents including infants and toddlers. The President has directed the Department of Defense to:

The Secretary of Defense shall take all legally available measures to provide to the Secretary, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law. The Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities.

It was announced tonight that the DOD is to provide 21 military Judge Advocate General Corps Officers with trial experience to serve as Assistant U.S. Attorneys to adjudicate the cases of these families.

The fact is that these actions of the administration will soil the military with the execution of laws that are all too similar to authoritarian regimes that use race, ethnicity, and religion to persecute, imprison, or expel people who belong to undesirable groups.

Likewise the Executive order directed other departments to cooperate with DHS:

Heads of executive departments and agencies shall, to the extent consistent with law, make available to the Secretary, for the housing and care of alien families pending court proceedings for improper entry, any facilities that are appropriate for such purposes. The Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities.

I cannot help but see the warning flags, the order reminds me of Hermann Goering’s directive to SS General Reinhard Heydrich which brought about the Final Solution to what the Nazis euphemistically referred to as the Jewish Problem. Goering wrote to Heydrich on July 31st 1941.

Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24th 1939, to solve the Jewish problem by means of evacuation and emigration in the best possible way by according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution (Gesamtlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other organizations touches on this matter, the organizations are to collaborate. 

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for the carrying out the desired final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question.”

In March of 2016 I wrote an article entitled Wannsee, Problem Solvers and Trump

The article pondered who would be the people who would implement the then candidate’s immigration policies. We now know. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said yesterday that the Nazis “did not deport Jews” as he defended the administration’s policies. Acting ICE Director Holden said without any sense of irony that “comparisons to the Nazis were unfair because” his agents were “just following orders.” The President has referred to immigrants as “animals” and this week referred to Democrats allowing immigrants to “infest” our country. The use of the word infest equates all immigrants with

But we are not limited to Hitler, we can go back to our own history as Steven Schmidt, a long time conservative Republican wrote;

“This child separation policy is connected to the worst abuses of humanity in our history,” Schmidt wrote on Twitter. “It is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery and dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families.”

The fact is that policies like those of the Trump administration are inherently evil and never fail to be the progenitors of even more evil policies. In 1917 most Russians would never thought that the Soviets would enact terrible measures to murder or starve tens of millions of Soviet citizens. In 1933 the vast majority of Germans, even the most anti-Semitic could have ever believed that their nation would be guilty of the premeditated extermination of about 6 million Jews and millions of others. The fact is that our history shows that as a people we are little different than the citizens of the Third Reich or the Soviet Union who either cooperated with or turned aside as their governments exterminated millions of people.

I could continue to go on, but the policies policies of the Trump administration and even the Executive Order are immoral, and while clothed in the veneer of enforcing the law go against every principle of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they are abhorrent and must be condemned, resisted and fought in court, in the media, and at the ballot box.

But that is all for now,

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I Will Support and Defend… Reflections on 35 Years of Commissioned Service in the Age of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty-five years ago today I swore an oath as a newly commissioned officer in the United States Army. It is an oath that along with my baptismal, confirmation, marriage, and ordination vows is the most important in my life. Almost two years before that I swore an enlistment oath on August 25th 1981.

It was a hot and smoggy summer day in Van Nuys California when drove into the parking lot of the old Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard in my 1975 yellow Chevy Monza with a black vinyl top. That night the San Francisco Giants defeated the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 4-2 and the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Seattle Mariners 6-5 in 12 innings.  In less important news the Voyager II space craft reached its lowest orbit around Saturn.

Getting out of the car I walked into the offices of the Headquarters, 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery of the California Army National Guard.  I had in my sweaty hands the paperwork from the Army ROTC detachment at UCLA the “Bruin Battalion” accepting me into the program and allowing me to enlist simultaneously in the National Guard.

I was met by the Headquarters Battery Commander, Captain Jeff Kramer who after my commissioning would allow me to borrow his sword and sword belt to wear at my wedding with my Dress Blue Uniform.  Jeff finished his career as a full Colonel in the California National Guard. He took me to Major Charles Armagost the battalion S-1 who rapidly had a clerk type up my enlistment papers and administered the oath of enlistment below:

I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of California  and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.

That was the beginning of what has turned out to be a very long strange trip.

Renewing the Oath on my Promotion to Lieutenant Commander 2006

In June of 1983 I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and I took a different oath, an oath of office versus enlistment, I would repeat it again in February 1984 when I was promoted to First Lieutenant, March of 1987 when promoted to First Lieutenant, and in December 1995 when I was promoted to Major. I swore variations of it in both the Texas and Virginia Army National Guard as well before I commissioned as a Navy Lieutenant  February 9th 1999.  I renewed it in April 2006 upon my promotion to Lieutenant Commander and September of 2011 when I was promoted to Commander. That oath states:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Since I swore the oath the first time  I have served in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, at sea and ashore in war and peace.  I have served as a Company Commander and a Staff Officer before becoming a Chaplain. I believe that even today  that there is no greater honor than to serve this country.

Iraq 2007

It is hard to believe that it has been 35 years.  I do take the oath of office quite seriously especially the part about defending the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.  I have served 30 years I have served under six Presidents

I have not completely agreed with the actions or policies of each President and Congress that I have served. While I have deeply held political views they have never kept me from serving under administrations that I have disagreed with on major policies.  Officers may have strong political views but those must always be subordinated to our oath to support and defend the Constitution.

One of my favorite heroes of the American Civil War, General Winfield Scott Hancock said “We are serving one country and not one man.” Hancock was a states rights Democrat who remained in the Union because he did not believe that secession was legal.  He had no political friends in Washington and he served valiantly during and after the war.  When asked about his opinion on what to do when their home state of Virginia seceded from the Union by his friends and fellow officers George Pickett, Lewis Armistead and Dick Garnett before the war in California he said “I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.”

This is not the case in much of the world. Many militaries swear allegiance to the ruler, the state, ruling political party or the majority religion.  The officers in many Moslem nations combine their oath with the Bya’ah which includes a personal oath to the King or Sheik and the Islamic statement of faith.

The British military swears an oath to the Queen and her successors:

“I  swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors in person, crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and of the generals and officers set over me.”

The Red Army of the Soviet Union swore an oath to “to protect with all his strength the property of the Army and the People and to cherish unto death his People, the Soviet homeland and the government of Workers and Peasants, also to respond at the first call from the government of Workers and Peasants to defend the homeland, the USSR.”

Germany has had a rather perilous history with oaths sworn by the military.  The Imperial Army swore an oath to the Kaiser but when the Kaiser abdicated and the Weimar Constitution was ratified German Officers and Soldiers took this oath: “I swear loyalty to the Reich’s constitution and pledge, that I as a courageous soldier always want to protect the German Nation and its legal institutions, (and) be obedient to the Reichspräsident and to my superiors.”  The history of the Republic shows that many officers and soldiers, especially those that had served under the Kaiser resented this oath.

In 1933 Hitler changed the oath to this  “I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.” The current German military oath states: “I swear to serve loyally the Federal Republic of Germany and to defend bravely the right and the freedom of the German people. So help me God.”

All oaths hold potential dangers but those of the United States military officer corps is perhaps the best thought out oath in the world.  The oath is to the Constitution, not a person, political party or religion.  The efficacy of the oath is based on the honor of those that swear to uphold it.  In times of national turmoil it is important for officers and enlisted personnel to ensure that remember that fact.

 

I pray that I will be faithful to the oath and the people that I serve in the coming years.  It is an honor to still remain in the service of this country.  I have served under six Presidents but until 2017 I never believed that I would fear the actions of the President so much that I would based on my oath to the Constitution as well as my ordination vows that I would preach against those actions in a military chapel.

But I remember that my oath is to the Constitution and not any President. I also know that as a Chaplain that I uphold the faith and values of the church that has endorsed me to remain in service as a Chaplain. My call is to serve all of those in my care, and to provide for their rights to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. That also extends to the rights of non-believers to not have a state religion shoved down their throats. It also means that I need to speak truth to those in power.  I also remember the words of German General Ludwig Beck who lost his life in the failed attempt on Hitler’s life 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.” 

Beck had served 35 years before Hitler came to power and initially supported him and many of his goals, but five years later he realized that it was Hitler leading the nation to war and Germany to its destruction. His words are also something that I hold on to today and because of that I will continue to speak out when the President, his appointees, and supporters speak and act against the Constitution, the law, the American people, and against the principles that the country was founded upon, most importantly the words of the Declaration of Independence which states the most revolutionary concept ever promulgated:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

It then goes on to attack the actions of the British Crown, of which many are being repeated by President Trump and his administration.

I may not be a soldier in high command, but I do realize that my highest duty is not to obey without questioning or criticizing the actions of the President when they go against the Constitution, the law, international treaties that the United States has pledged to uphold, and basic human rights. Thus the oath that I first swore to uphold 35 years ago still matters.

Padre Steve+

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Breaking Precedent: Trump and Hitler Compared to their Predecessors

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I recently read German historian Joachim Fest’s book Inside Hitler’s Bunker: the Last Days of the Third Reich. The book is the basis for the German language film Downfall which depicted the last ten days of the Third Reich.

I don’t read books or movies about the Third Reich to find comparisons to the present day, I have been studying that period since my years as a college undergraduate and first year graduate student at California State University at Northridge. Most of my history major studies focused on modern German history beginning with Imperial German but really focusing on the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era through the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg. My professor, Dr. Helmut Heussler had served there as a translator.

That was nearly 40 years ago. I continued that study in seminary to some extent, individually during the times that I was stationed in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, and during my second Masters degree. I have continued those studies since then and used what I learned teaching ethics to senior military officers at the Joint Forces Staff College. We dealt a lot with war crimes and I used the film about the Wannsee Conference, Conspiracy as our capstone exercise. I used it so my students could see how ordinary men, officers, lawyers, bureaucrats, and police officials could cooperate to coordinate their agencies actions in regards to implementing the Final Solution to what they referred to as the Jewish Question.

Since 2014 I have made yearly visits to Germany where I take the time to visit the sites and centers related to the study of the Holocaust and the Nazi period. Thankfully because I read, speak and write German I do pretty well navigating around these sites and many of the materials I have now are in German, but I digress, that was all to state my expertise regarding the subject before some troll comes by to say that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

So anyway going back to Fest’s book and one particular statement that Fest made about Hitler in the context of German history and the various leaders who preceded him. Fest wrote:

“What differentiated Hitler from any conceivable predecessors was the complete lack of sense of responsibility beyond the merely personal, of any clear-headed, selfless ethos of service, and of any historic morality.”

I had to stop reading at that point and go back and re-read the preceding section of that chapter to make sure that I had the context right. Hitler certainly absorbed the ideas of racism, anti-Semitism, racial purity and the superiority of the Aryan Race, which do have precedent in German history. They were part and parcel of ideas that he was exposed to while in Vienna before the war and the people that he socialized with in Munich following Germany’s defeat in 1918.

There are also examples of German military forces conducting what amounted to genocide in Namibia when it was a German colony, as well as very harsh measures being conducted against Belgian civilians during the First World War, but those knew limits, and there the comparison with his predecessors ends. Fest wrote:

“There would be a “New Man”who razed everything to the ground, resettled territories, and sought relaxation from his mission… It was a break with everything the world had ever stood for. Trying to invent an origin for this revolution – an origin it did not have – is to fall retrospectively for the regime’s own propaganda. The origins of this program were entirely self generated. No one had ever gone to such extremes, and with such utter madness….”

Then I began to think about President Trump in the context of his presidential predecessors and I realized that in the context of the American political system that what Fest said about Hitler is also true of the 45th American President. While he may represent some of the more isolationist, and racist parts of our history there is no real American Presidential precedent for him.

He has gone back and borrowed from the worst aspects of the American experience and mythology to create his personal cult of personality based on Making America Great Again. He blends crude ante-Bellum and Jim Crow racism, with the anti-immigrant and religious prejudices of the Know Nothings, as well as the Isolationist and Nazi supporting America First movement of the late 1930s and early 1940s. He tries to link himself to Ronald Reagan but that to is a fallacy based on the policies enacted by both men.

Like Hitler, Trump has been enabled by a cult-like following who themselves were ideologically and socially prepared to sacrifice themselves for him and his repackaging of their beliefs despite overwhelming evidence that he will lead them to ruin despite a veneer of success.

I really don’t try to go out of my way to find connections between our era and the early period of Nazi rule in Germany, but when they jump out like this I cannot ignore them. Such moments are epiphanies and should not be ignored.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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In Today’s Struggle for Principle with Trump there Will be No Republican Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watch President Trump’s administration attack the law, the Constitution, and violate the civil rights and human rights of citizens as well as people who have come to the United States to flee oppression and danger at home; to threaten freedom of speech and freedom of the press; to categorize political opponents inside and outside of his party as traitors; to legitimize the most repressive dictatorial regimes while attacking longstanding allies; even as he works to destroy the work of American Presidents and diplomats to build a world order that has brought great benefit to the United States and the world by defeating the Nazis, Imperial Japan, and eventually the Soviet Union. He has chosen the choice of being a rogue superpower rather than being the moderating and stabilizing force in the world that it has played since World War Two. Robert Kagan wrote in the Washington Post yesterday:

“The United States’ adversaries will do well in this world, for Trump’s America does not want war. It will accommodate powers that can harm it. It will pay them the respect they crave and grant them their spheres of interest. Those that depend on the United States, meanwhile, will be treated with disdain, pushed around and used as pawns. At times, they will be hostages to be traded for U.S. gain. The United States and the postwar liberal order protected them and helped them prosper, but it also left them vulnerable to any American leader willing to offer them up as sacrifices to appease aggressors. That is a kind of realism, too… It recognizes no moral, political or strategic commitments. It feels free to pursue objectives without regard to the effect on allies or, for that matter, the world. It has no sense of responsibility to anything beyond itself.”

The President and his administration show little regard for the Constitution and established law in this country and our treaties and agreements with other nations. He appoints men and women who had they been Germans after the Second World War would have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity to high office. He defends White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis. He confounds loyalty to himself with patriotism and loyalty to the country.

He uses propaganda to demonize those who seek law and justice. In any normal time a cry would arise from his own party saying “no more,” but his party does nothing, and even those leaders who occasionally speak out against his policies take no actions because they are afraid of retribution. That happened to long time conservative Congressman Mark Sanford in South Carolina this week when the President tweeted his support for his primary opponent. During the primary season White Nationalists, self-proclaimed Nazis, and other Trump supporters advocating the most extreme, unconstitutional and abhorrent positions often swept the field against conservatives who themselves would have been considered extremists just a few years ago. The GOP is on the Party if Trump and it took less than two years to become so.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam something that we are observing up close and personal as President Trump and his administration flounder in a sea of make believe, a cloud cuckoo land of alternative facts, alternative truth, and alternative history:

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

To be true, the Trump administration is not the first in history, in fact not even in our own country to ignore facts when making decisions. However, it is remarkable in its ability not only to shun facts but to make up its own narrative that depends on denying reality while impugning the character, honesty, and decency of those who present facts and truth that is verifiable. To be sure, competence and prudence are not and probably will never be marks of President Trump, his closest advisors, or his enablers in Congress. My hope is that some Republican in either the House or Senate rises up to confront the ineptitude and folly being demonstrated on a daily basis.

President James Buchanan

In some ways the incompetence and refusal to deal with reality by the Trump administration reminds me of the administration of James Buchanan during the years before the American Civil War. Buchanan’s collusion with Chief Justice Roger Taney regarding the Dred Scott decision before his inauguration stained him from the beginning and poisoned his relationship with Congress by declaring that the Congress never had the right to limit slavery as it had in the Missouri Compromise. Buchanan’s presidency is considered by most historians to be the worst in American history, incompetent, arrogant, and ineffective.

Likewise, Buchanan’s attempt to jam the Lecompton Constitution through Congress as a reward to Southern Democrats blew up in his face. The Lecompton Constitution was a gerrymandered bill which ignored the will of the vast majority of Kansas’s settlers who were anti-slavery. The work of the pro-slavery element in Kansas was so onerous that it brought Republicans and Northern Democrats together for the first time as Southern Democrats threatened secession if Kansas was not admitted as a Slave State. Ignoring warnings that supporting a measure that would open the door to slavery in all the western territories would split his party, Buchanan pushed on. His intransigence on the matter brought Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois to the fore in opposing it. Nicknamed “the Little Giant,” Douglas was the odds on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. Douglas was not against the institution of slavery, and he was a racist, but he had no tolerance for those who would upend carefully crafted compromises to expand it through the whole country. Thus he  took his case to the floor of the Senate and to the President himself.

The Confrontation between the Senator and the President was unparalleled. Douglas recalled, “The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir!

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back, “Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.”  It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense.

Undeterred by facts, Buchanan and Southern Democrats fought for the bill’s passage. When Buchanan’s supporters pushed for Lecompton’s approval and the admission of Kansas as a Slave State, Douglas fired back, warning “You do,” I said, “and it will lead directly to civil war!” I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Under Douglas the Northern Democrats joined with Republicans for the first time to defeat the admission of Kansas as a Slave State. Douglas recalled the battle:

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

Douglas and his supporters did just that, Buchanan and his supporters were outfought and outmaneuvered by Douglas’s Democrats and their Republican allies. The bill was sent back to Kansas where in a new election the people of Kansas voted solidly against the Lecompton Constitution. In the following Congressional elections the thoroughly discredited Democrats lost their majority, their party now hopelessly divided with Southerners determined to destroy Douglas at any cost, even if it meant losing the presidency, the conflict opened the door for the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

I wonder if there will be a Republican in the Congress with the courage that Stephen A. Douglas displayed in confronting the incompetent and vindictive President Buchanan during the Lecompton Crisis. Will there be a Republican with enough courage to stop the insanity of the Trump administration even if it means in the short term to divide the party and doom their political future? Honestly I doubt it as does conservative Republican political strategist Rick Wilson. Wilson wrote:

“Nothing you do matters to this Congress. No matter what damage you inflict on our economy, our alliances, trade, our stature in the world, our role as an exemplar of democratic values, our ability to serve as an honest broker in the international community, and our security, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will lay supine before you.” 

But if Trump’s march of folly is to be stopped, someone in the Republican Senate or House will have to have the courage to stand up and defend the necessity of thinking for themselves, and doing what is right, sadly there is no Stephen Douglas in today’s GOP.

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Foreign Policy, History, laws and legislation, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary