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Silence In the Face of Evil Itself: A Dark Meditation of Resistance in Trump’s America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I have written about that a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, though I hoped for a different outcome. In the past three and a half years the President has gone from bad to worse.

He cannot tell the truth about anything, so his staff and supporters invented something they called alternative truth, or alternative facts. Within months of his inauguration he was overturning civil rights protections for many Americans, those who had little power to resist. He went after the voting rights of Black Americans, the elderly, and the poor. He went after LGBTQ people’s basic civil rights, many of which were only recently won. He went after the human rights of immigrants, and refugees, even the children of people who came here decades ago, the Dreamers who were raised as Americans, who served in the military, and how had become contributors to the American way of life, though they were deprived of citizenship. He promised to build a wall to keep out Latin American refugees, though not completed he took actions that separated families and locked children in cages on concrete floors as he enriched the most wealthy with tax cuts, but in the process blew the budget deficit into realms never dreamed about before. He attacked patriotic Americans, including members of the military calling them traitors because they respected the Constitution more than worshipping him. He went after long time American allies and made himself a de facto ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He made his presidency one of White Supremacy and the economy, but his Presidency was built upon smoke mirrors and lies. When the novel Coronavirus 19 was identified as an epidemic in China and then as a pandemic he ignored it and then minimized it time after time again. Then everything came apart on him with dire results for the country at large.

When COVID 19 finally began to hit the United States and kill people he finally acted, but far too late. Now over 118,000 Americans are dead, and that is the official count, which is certainly a large undercount, with two million more being infected and half of those still at risk of death. But it wasn’t until the economy began to tank and Wall Street crashed that he did anything. The virus is still here, with tens of thousands a day being infected, as he continues to push to reopen the economy to go back to a normal that cannot be restored, regardless of the number of lives lost.

Then there were a spate of targeted killings of Black men by Whites acting as vigilantes, and police brutality and excessive force. The men, and a woman who happened to be an EMT for the City of Louisville, can only be classed as murder. The straw that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds until he was dead. When massive protests broke out all over the nation he ordered maximum force to be used and tried to co-opt the military into becoming involved into his political fight for survival. In doing that he attacked peaceful protestors in Lafayette Park and at St John’s Episcopal Church. The assault, launched as he was speaking from the Rose Garden was brutal. Tear gas, pepper spray grenades, rubber bullets were followed rolled by an all out assault by Federal Police and National Guardsmen, including mounted units. When the square was cleared the President marched out for a photo-op displaying the Bible as a weapon. Military leaders reacted in horror and refused to support any more such actions.

Sadly, I could keep listing abuse after abuse of the law and Constitution by President Trump, but don’t think that I need to continue.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To the soon to be former GOP Congressman, Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him seem to want blood flowing in the streets, they want a new Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that Congressman King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns, including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.”


The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while former Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her successors deny that the President’s words and actions, and vilify anyone that bothers to disagree with the President or their blatant lies. So when Huckabee Sander is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or former DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.


Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my old chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

In fact two years ago Wednesday, in my former Chapel, a parishioner, a retired Navy Officer attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for preaching basic Catholic and Christian social justice teaching that goes back to the Old Testament where the Psalmists cry out for justice against oppressors and the Kings, Priests, and rich who the Prophets condemned, and which at least in the Catholic tradition still remains. The man blatantly lied about what I said. He said that in the sermon I called the President Hitler, and the Border Patrol the Gestapo.

It was all a lie, but an investigation was launched. Instead of trusting my life and career to a brand new Navy lawyer, I reached out to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who found me an experienced former military lawyer who had taken on high profile cases before. The investigating officer wanted to interview me, but I refused without legal counsel. So he interviewed half of the congregation that was present that day. None would corroborate the accusations but some said that they disagreed with my sermon because of their political views. I was exonerated and the investigation stopped there, but if I had retired out of that assignment, I would have probably never darkened the door of a church again. That experience confirmed the worst thoughts that I had about the Conservative Christians who make up the majority of President Trump’s Cult. They no longer care about Christ, the teachings of the Christian faith, but only care about establishing a Christian theocracy on the order of the modern Taliban, Calvin’s Geneva, or Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. In 1945 Captain Gustave Gilbert, a US Army Psychologist assigned room the major Nazi War Criminals noted that one thing tied all of them together, the absence of empathy. He would remark, that he had come to the conclusion that “evil is the absence of empathy.”

As I conclude this article I am reminded of the words of the German General Henning Von Tresckow, who died in the attempt to kill Hitler and destroy the Nazi State:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

I think we could easily substitute the United States for Prussia in his words. We have lost that balance that Tresckow described, and it will destroy us if we are not careful.

Sadly, the absence of empathy all too well describes the malignant narcissistic sociopath that is President Trump, his family, his inner circle, and his most faithful supporters appear to be. I could be wrong, but I know that I am not. I expect that things will get worse much worse before they get better. I say this because I truly believe that since they don’t believe in the promise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or the rights laid out in the Constitution including its amendments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the Reality of “Weimar” America

The Assailant: Jared Lee Loughner from his My Space Page

I think that the United States of America has become Weimar Germany before my eyes. We have a very divided and polarized electorate which in each of the last several years bouncing the majority party in Congress out almost every two years. Both major parties have proclaimed their opponents dead and claimed that they had a long term lock on congress only to see that disappear in the next election cycle. Presidents go from massive approval ratings to massive disapproval ratings almost overnight and the constant cry seems to be “throw the bums out.” While this is going on both major parties have cultivated a poisonous political culture which has resulted in the furthest extremes controlling each party while claiming to represent the mainstream. Radio and television commentators, pundits and talk show hosts play to the extremist mentality castigating anyone that deviates from their ideological norm and calling for radical if not violent action to achieve those ends.  Sarah Palin used gun sight crosshairs to “target” Congressmen who voted for Health Care Reform for defeat on her PAC website and others have used the language of violent revolution and bloodshed to further inflame already disgruntled and angry electorate.   During the recent election campaign thugs from both sides used violence and intimidation against their opponent’s rallies and campaign headquarters.

The Target: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with Speaker of the House John Boehner on Monday

Over the past year I have been writing about the poisonous political environment in the United States and the threat to liberty that it poses. I have specifically written about those that threaten violence and use violent imagery to convey their ideology or political goals.  Today we have seen were such talk leads. We still know little about the assassin Jared Lee Loughner a 22 year old loner with some rather odd beliefs. However from what we have seen on his You Tube and My Space pages it is clear that he was certainly troubled. We don’t know enough yet to do more than speculate about what he actually believes and what led him to shoot Congresswoman Giffords, kill 6 others including Federal Judge John Roll, one of Giffords’ staffers and a 9 year old girl and would 11 others.

Assassinated while stopping to say hello after Mass: Judge John Roll

We also now are learning that there is a second suspect who is a according to the Pima County Sherriff a white man in his 50s who allegedly accompanied Loughner to the grocery store where he launched his attack. Reports this evening indicate that Loughner is not talking so there will certainly be more to this story.  It will be interesting and enlightening and potentially frightening to see where the trail leads and what influenced Loughner to attempt to kill Congresswoman Giffords and kill or wound so many more.

Some are already speculating about Loughner’s motivation s and political leanings.  Far right columnists are already trying with very little evidence that Loughner is a left wing extremist.  Aaron Klein of World Net Daily asserts this in a claim based solely on the recollections of a high school classmate who has not seen him for years. Many in the media and on the left posit that he is  a right wing extremist based on his postings about the distrust of the current government, vague references to the Constitution and his support for returning to the Gold Standard.  It is also possible that he is simply a violent man influenced by a wide variety of sources and passions. The fact that he lists Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto as two of his favorite books give the latter some credence as well.

However I would garner from the limited amount of information that Loughner is very unstable.  Like many such people it is entirely plausible that he has swung from one pendulum of radicalism to another. While he may have leaned left in High School it is also very possible that he lurched to the right, influenced by the vitriol of some on the far political right based on the subjects mentioned on his You Tube and My Space pages as I have already noted. I think that may well be what happened. Of course I could be very wrong about this and if so I will own it, but if we look at history there are many cases of mentally unstable people that shift from one extreme to another in relatively short periods of time who turn to violence.  If we add to the picture the fact that after Giffords voted for the Health Care Bill her office was vandalized and was the frequent location of loud and angry protests by members of Arizona’s Tea Party and that at one rally a gun was dropped by an anti-Giffords protestor.

I really think that with things as they are with the violent rhetoric and extreme vitriol that have become a part of everyday political discourse with politicians such as Michelle Bachmann saying things like “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous….having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.” Representative Steve King ranted “Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s take them out. Let’s chase them down.” Talk show hosts have often made even more extreme statements and while these may energize ratings as well as further whip the angry base to come out to rallies and vote.  Some on the left have engaged in similar talk.  Admittedly even the most passionate and angry members of the extreme right or left are not violent people by nature. However there are people, usually on the fringe of such groups that are emotionally unstable and prone to violence that will interpret such language in very literal ways.

Unfortunately we do not yet know what went on in the mind of Jared Loughner’s mind before he went on his killing spee, but I fear that it will not be the last political violence that we see in the coming days and years.  With both sides so invested in demonizing the other it will be hard for them to back down. Rhetoric will certainly remain inflamed as will the passions of the electorate in the new electoral season with the approaching 2012 Presidential Campaign on the horizon.  I fully expect things to get worse and for more people to be killed or injured by violent acts of extremists because rational debate is a thing of the past in our country. We are not far from political groups forming their own armed “security” details for “protection” of their party’s elected officials or candidates, much like those of the Nazis and Communists in Weimar Germany.  We have already seen some of this in the past couple of years but the worst is yet to come. There will be no backing down by either side though for a moment or two in the wake of this attack some cooler heads will prevail until in the coming weeks the ideologues raise the heated rhetoric to new heights.

The sad thing is that Congresswoman Giffords was a moderate and as I have said before moderates are an endangered species. I have been threatened with physical harm by some extremists who have left comments on this website and I have no political power. I found a lot of common ground with Congresswoman Giffords and had I lived in her district I certainly would have voted for her. She was a strong supporter of the military and our military families, she was for immigration reform and married to a Naval Officer serving as an Astronaut, but to the hard core right she was a traitor because she voted for the Health Care bill.  That is why Sarah Palin’s PAC had a gun sight crosshair with her name on it.  I’m sure they did not actually mean for someone to shoot her or any of the other 19 targets congressmen and women but their words and symbols has meaning and some will take such gestures seriously. Congresswoman Giffords said during the recent election campaign: “For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.” Unfortunately Gabrielle Giffords was right about that.

I pray like so many others that she Congresswoman Giffords will live and that somehow despite the grievous nature of her wound that she will recover.  If she dies, as Judge Roll already has her death will be mourned by many of her colleagues, constituents and Americans who believe that political extremism has gone too far. However, you can mark my words that there will be some in the coming weeks who will seek to discredit her or Judge Roll and justify what was done to them regardless of Loughner’s motivation or connections be they from the right or left and some from the right are already doing this on posts to various news site articles. We have reached the abyss and I pray that we don’t throw ourselves into it. God help us all.

Padre Steve+

 

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