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“Only Two Parties Now” The Aftermath of Fort Sumter

sumterflag

The Flag of Fort Sumter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the second of two-part installment from my Civil War text. The story follows the secession crisis and the attack on Fort Sumter. I describes the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I find that it is remarkable and ironic that Republican lawmakers in South Carolina have introduced a bill that would allow secession if the Federal Government does anything that these legislators perceive as violating the Second Amendment so close to the date that their predecessors opened fire on Fort Sumter, but that is not the subject of today’s article. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

When the Stars and Stripes came down on April 14th 1861 the North was galvanized as never before, and “the clash at Fort Sumter brought forth an outpouring of support for the Union and President Lincoln.” [1]Abner Doubleday wrote “With the first shot fired against Fort Sumter the whole North became united.” [2] Another observer wrote: “The heather is on fire….I never knew what popular excitement can be… The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favors and flags.” [3] The assault on Fort Sumter help to unify the North in ways not thought possible by Southern politicians who did not believe that Northerners had the mettle to go to war against them. But they were wrong, those shots, which Jefferson Davis ordered had the opposite reaction, for Northerners, even opponents of abolition who were not supporters of Lincoln, slavery in the South was one thing, but the attack on a Federal garrison by massed artillery was another; even Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s stalwart opponent of so many campaigns went to the White House for a call to national unity. Returning to Chicago he told a huge crowd just a month before his untimely death:

“There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war, only patriots – or traitors” [4]

For Frederick Douglass the shots marked a new phase in abolition:

“The first flash of rebel gunpowder and shell upon the starving handful of men at Sumter instantly changed the nation’s whole policy. Until then, the ever hopeful North was dreaming of compromise…

I wrote in my newspaper; “On behalf of our enslaved and bleeding brothers and sisters, thank God! The slaveholders themselves have saved the abolition cause from ruin! The government is aroused, the dead North is alive, and its divided people united. Never was a change so sudden, so universal, and so portentous. The whole North from East to West is in arms…” [5]

Douglas died less than a month later, possibly from cirrhosis of the liver, but his impact on the Democrats in the North was immense, “for a year of more his war spirit lived among most Democrats. “Let our enemies perish by the sword,” was the theme of democratic editorials in the spring of 1861. “All squeamish sentimentality should be discarded, and bloody vengeance wreaked upon the heads of the contemptable traitors who have provoked it by their dastardly impertinence and rebellious acts.” [6]

sickles as brigadier

Dan Sickles

One of these Democrats was New York Congressman Dan Sickles. He was one of many men whose outlook toward the South changed when Sumter was fired upon. Sickles had stridently defended Southerners and Southern states rights just months before, so long as they remained in the Union, and he took the actions of his former friends personally. He then became one of the first of men who were known as Union Democrats who followed Lincoln into the war, and despite his lack of ethics in much of his life it was a cause for which he would remain true, during and after the war.

When the soldiers of South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter, Sickles, who had said that no troops would cross through New York to invade the South in 1859 proclaimed “the men of New York would go in untold thousands anywhere to protect the flag of their country and to maintain its legitimate authority.” [7] In one of his last congressional speeches Sickles lambasted the South for its threat to the United States as a whole, and condemned the new Confederacy’s policies in spite of Northern attempts to conciliate them, “has been followed by insults to our flag; by the expulsion of the United States troops and authorities from navy yards and forts and arsenals; by measures to control the vast commerce of the Mississippi and its tributaries….” [8] He also condemned the South for its seizure of U.S. funds in the sub-treasuries and mints in the South as well sending envoys to England and France.

Sickles-Excelsior-Brigade-Headquarters-City-Hall-Park.-Yorktown

After the war Sickles, who had lost his leg in the Battle of Gettysburg fighting for the Union, oversaw the early efforts of reconstruction in North Carolina and for ordering the end to the public whippings of blacks by state officials was fired by President Andrew Johnston for supporting voting rights for African Americans. Congress reinstated him but Sickles who had so earnestly supported the South as late as 1860 no longer could stomach such abuse by those men who at one time his political friends and allies. During the election of 1876 Sickles, a lifelong Democrat labeled his party as “the party of treason.” [9] He joined forces with Republicans and helped to prevent the election of New York Democrat Samuel Tilden through shrewd political electioneering in key battleground states.

For Stephen Douglas the attack on Fort Sumter meant the end of his efforts to bring about some kind of reconciliation to reunite the country and restore the Union. When the Little Giant heard the news of the attack and reports of the statements of Confederate leaders he rushed to Lincoln to offer his support. Douglas wrote of the meeting:

“I heartily approve of your proclamation calling up 75,000 militia,” I told him. “Except that I would make it 200,000. You don’t know the dishonest purposes of these southern men as well as I do.” After a review of the strategic situation with the President Douglas continued, “Mr. President,” I said. “Let me speak plainly. I remain unalterably opposed to your Administration on purely its political issues. Yet I’m prepared to sustain you in the exercise of all your constitutional functions to preserve the Union, maintain the government, and defend the capital. A firm policy and prompt action are necessary. The capital of our country is in danger, and must be defended at all hazards, and at any expense of men and money. I speak of the present and future without reference to the past.

He shook my hand, hard. “We need more patriots like you, Douglas,” he said as he walked me to the door.

“I depreciate war,” I said in parting, “but if it must come, I’m with my country and for my country, under all circumstances and in every contingency.” [10]

Douglas then went to his fellow Democrats in Washington and told them: “We must fight for our country and forget all differences. There can be only two parties now – the party of patriots and the party of traitors. We belong to the first.” [11]

ewell

Richard Ewell

Army officers were conflicted between the Army that they had served, often for many years, the flag that they had fought under, longstanding friendships, and loyalty to their states and families. Richard Ewell who would rise to corps command in the Army of Northern Virginia, described the feelings of many officers in the ante-bellum Army: “Officers generally are very much adverse to any thing like civil war, though some of the younger ones are a bit warlike. The truth is in the army there are no sectional feelings and many from extreme ends of the Union are the most intimate friends.” [12] In California a number of those friends and their families bade tearful farewells as they parted ways. Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston and Captains Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis Armistead gathered one last time. Hancock had already, who had great sympathy for his Southern friends, made his views known had previously announced “I shall fight not upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” [13] His commander, Johnston, and dear friend Armistead were departing to serve the Confederacy and the parting was painful. Almira Hancock wrote of the final night together in Los Angeles:

“The most crushed was Major Armistead, who with tears, which were contagious, streaming down his face, put his hands upon Mr. Hancock’s shoulders, while looking him steadily in the eye, said, “Hancock, good-bye; you can never know what this has cost me; and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worst….” [14]

Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia looked askance at secession, but he had made the decision that no matter what he would not lead armies against the South. In fact it was clear when he left Texas to come east where his sentiments lay. He told a friend “If Virginia stands by the old Union, so will I. But if she secedes (though I do believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and if need be, with my life.” [15]When he returned to Washington D.C. he accepted a promotion to Colonel in the Regular Army less than a month before he was offered command of the Union armies by Abraham Lincoln, a position that he turned down. In his final interview with General Winfield Scott to announce his decision, he admitted that “the struggle had been hard. He did not believe in secession, he said, and if he owned every slave in the South he would free them all to bring peace; but to fight against Virginia was not in him.” [16] When Virginia seceded Lee submitted his resignation from the Army for a cause that he did not really believe was constitutional or necessary, noting in his letter:

“With all my devotion to the Union and feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore, resigned my commission in the Army, and save in the defense of my native State…I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.” [17]

Within days Lee was appointed as a General and commander of the military forces of Virginia. When he arrived at the State House and “before he had much time to ruminate, he found himself being presented with George Washington’s sword, and hailed as a hero in a powerful tribute by the president of the convention.” [18] Even so, Lee’s decision was assailed by much of his Unionist oriented family, and many of them went on to serve the Union with distinction during the war. One relative wrote of Lee’s decision, “I feel no exalted respect for a man who takes part in a movement in which he says he can see nothing but ‘anarchy and ruin’… and yet very utterance scare passed Robt Lees lips… when he starts off with delegates to treat traitors.” [19]

Lee’s future right hand man and chief lieutenant, Thomas Jackson, the soon to be “Stonewall” Jackson was then a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. The often grim and serious Jackson saw the issue of secession as he did all of life through the prism of his Evangelical Protestant Calvinistic faith. For him it disunion was a matter of Divine Providence. When secession came and Jackson heard a minister friend in Lexington lamenting the nation’s troubles he noted:

“Why should Christians be at all disturbed about the dissolution of the Union? It can only come by God’s permission, and only will be permitted, if it is for his people’s good, for does he not say that all things shall work together for the good to them that love God?” [20]

In San Francisco Lieutenant James McPherson of the Corps of Engineers attempted to convince Lieutenant Porter Alexander from going home and joining the cause of the Confederacy. He bluntly spoke the facts of what would happen to the South in coming the war to the future Confederate artillery general:

“The population of the seceding states is only eight million while the North has twenty million. Of your 8 million over 3 million are slaves & may pose a dangerous element. You have no army, no navy, no treasury, no organization & practically none of the manufacturers – the machine shops, coal & iron mines & such things – which are necessary for the support of armies & carrying on war on a large scale.

You are but scattered agricultural communities & will be isolated from the world by blockades.

It is not possible for your cause to succeed in the end…” [21]

But Alexander, like so many Southern officers realized “that a crisis in my life was at hand. But I felt helpless to avert it or even debate the question what I should do. I could not doubt or controvert one of McPherson’s statements or arguments…” [22]

buford

John Buford

However, many Southern born officers serving in the Army did not leave. Close to half of the “Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held to their posts and remained loyal to the Union.” [23] One was Kentucky’s John Buford who would gain immortal fame at the Battle of Gettysburg. Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [24] Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [25] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [26] A starker contrast could not be drawn.

Close to forty-percent of the Virginians serving on active-duty in the army remained faithful to the Union, including the Commander of the Army, General Winfield Scott and Robert E. Lee’s friend George Thomas and both were ostracized in the Old Dominion. “Thomas’s family never again communicated with him except to ask him to change his name. A young Virginian just out of West Point, acknowledged that by retaining his commission he had been shunned by all of his Southern associates; yet he still derided those who would hold their obligations so lightly as to abandon the nation when it most needed them.” [27]

But throughout the South, most people were less than circumspect and openly rejoiced at the surrender of Fort Sumter. In Richmond the night following the surrender “bonfires and fireworks of every description were illuminating in every direction- the whole city was a scene of joy owing to [the] surrender of Fort Sumter” – and Virginia wasn’t even part of the Confederacy.” [28] John Gordon, the future Confederate General was leading his Georgia volunteers to the new Confederate capital and “found the line of march an unbroken celebration: fires lighted the hilltops; fife-and-drum corps shrilled and thumped; cannons exploded their welcome.” [29]

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Ulysses Grant

Far to the north in Bangor Maine a little known professor at Bowdin College named Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain read the news “could not abide the thought of a divided nation; the Founding Fathers “did not vote themselves into a people; they recognized and declared that they were a people” whose bonds out not to be severed by political, social, or economic grievances.” [30] The professor “was seized with anger that “the flag of the Nation had been insulted” and “the integrity and existence of the people of the United States had been assailed in open and bitter war.” [31] In Illinois, a former struggling former Regular Army officer and veteran of the War with Mexico, Ulysses S. Grant whose in-laws were sympathetic to the Southern cause who had volunteered to lead a regiment of Illinois volunteers, wrote “Whatever may have been my opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is to have a Government, and laws and a flag and they all must be sustained….There are but two parties now, Traitors and Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter.” [32]

1st_7th_Reg_Departs

Even in cities that had often leaned toward the South like Cincinnati, people rushed to proclaim their patriotism and support of the Union. George Ticknor told an English friend “The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favours and flags…. Civil war is freely accepted everywhere… by all, anarchy being the obvious, and perhaps the only alternative.” Pacifists who had rejected violence, even in support of righteous causes, turned bellicose. Ralph Waldo Emerson enthused, “Sometimes gunpowder smells good.” [33] As the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry marched through the streets of New York on their way to Washington were greeted with cheers from thousands of New Yorkers. The New York Times reported the event:

“Flags were displayed at all the hotels on the route, and waving handkerchiefs from the balconies and windows signified the warm greetings of the fair sex to the brave Bay State soldiers. Opposite the New York Hotel a gray-haired old man mounted a stoop and addressing the soldiers and people, said that he had fought under the Stars and Stripes in the War of 1812 against a foreign power, and now that the flag was spit upon by those who should be its defenders. He closed his remarks by a “God bless our flag,” and left the crowd with tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks.” [34]

The Rubicon had been crossed and there was now no going back for either side. Poet Walt Whitman wrote:

War! An arm’d race is advancing! The welcome for battle, no turning away;

War! Be it weeks, months, or years, an arm’d race is advancing to welcome it.” [35]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Cooper We Have the War Upon Us p.270

[2] Doubleday, Abner From Moultrie to Sumter in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume I Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.48

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[4] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[5] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.423

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.274-275

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.212

[8] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.214

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.525

[10] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.421-422

[11] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.422

[12] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.120

[13] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.33

[14] Hancock, Almira Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock Charles L Webster and Company, New York 1887 pp.69-70

[15] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.187

[16] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.335

[17] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.85

[18] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.295

[19] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.295

[20] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.38

[21] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.24

[22] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.25

[23] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957

[24] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[25] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.70

[26] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[27] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.292

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.140

[29] Smith, Jean Edward. Grant Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2001 p.99

[30] Longacre, Edward G. Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 pp.49-50

[31] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.139

[32] Ibid. Smith Grant p.103

[33] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.205

[34] Holzer, Harold and Symonds, Craig L. Editors, The New York Times Complete Civil War 1861-1865 Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2010 p.75

[35] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.205

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A Crisis of Character: Trump Emulates Kaiser Wilhelm II and War Beckons

Two of a Kind: Kaiser Wilhelm II and President Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

With every passing day the words of Theodore Roosevelt keep echoing in my mind. The President and hero of San Juan Hill noted: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” That is especially true as we all await to see if the actions of President Trump live up to his Tweet storms to defy the Constitution, and unleash missiles on Syria and the forces of Russia and Iran located in that suffering country.

I could never in a million years believed that I would see the day when the manifold transgressions of an American President threaten the both the Constitution and potentially the very existence of the United Staes.  First growing number of  of crises involving multiple indictments of Trump surrogates involved with the supposedly non-existent Russian interference and the President’s threats against the press, political opponents, prosecutors, and his own Department of Justice regarding the Trump campaign collusion with Russia are frightening on their own merits. But then there is the of potential nuclear war with North Korea. But for just a dash of spice let’s mention the President’s tweets of looming strikes on Syria and taunts against Russia. Frankly as recipes for disaster go this is like adding Ghost Peppers to a Sarin laced cheesecake, but I digress…

I think that it is important to see the President’s words and actions in light of a number of factors. The first and foremost of those is character, just as Theodore Roosevelt noted. President Trump may be a character; he may even be a hoot when he gets peed on by Putin paid prostitutes (if such rumors are true) but he shows little evidence of actually having character or being a man of honor.

That dear reader is really the problem, thus it is important to know how the character other leaders at other historical  influenced how they treated people, reacted to criticism, and led their nations into disaster.

In the American experience one is hard pressed to find a President with a similar temperament and character that corresponds to Donald Trump. Yes, Nixon had some similarities, Jackson as well, but both men even at their worst did, at least in public restrain themselves and Nixon, when confronted with the reality of certain impeachment did the country a favor by resigning. Of course American history is replete with other Presidents and leaders with a corresponding lack of character but none tweeted with their iPhone in one hand and the nuclear football in the other, although I assume that he has to put at least one down to eat his friend chicken as he gets his political strategy and intelligence briefings from Sean Hannity and Steve Doocey.

But the times have changed. At onetime there were leaders in the Republican Party who chose to honor the Constitution and their oaths over blind party loyalty or their determination to pass a certain legislative act. Their resistance to President Nixon was instrumental in his resignation in 1974. But there seem to be few current members of the GOP congressional delegations willing to stand either for fear of the Trump base, or blind determination to press on with tax cuts even if it means the sacrifice of the Constitution, nuclear war, or their own integrity.

But all that being said I do think that there is a leader from historywho in temperament was much like President Trump, who ended up helping to lead his nation and the world to the abyss of World War. That is not Adolf Hitler who many people often compare the President. I think that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his reliance on his radicalized base, including armed mobs in the street, and hyper-partisan allies in the right wing media, especially Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp which serves as his de-facto state media are similar, but they do not speak to the President’s unstable, narcissistic, and paranoid behaviors. I think that the better comparison is to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with whom the President seems to share many similarities, both in temperament and words.

As tensions built in the lead up to the First World War Kaiser Wilhelm alternated between threatening Russia with destruction and pleading with his cousin Czar Nicholas II for peace.

In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark wrote of Wilhelm in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the President.

“It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.

‘I am the sole master of German policy,’ he remarked in a letter to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), ‘and my country must follow me wherever I go”

“Wilhelm frequently –especially in the early years of his reign –bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with the prevailing policy.

“It was in this last area –the unauthorized exposition of unsanctioned political views –that the Kaiser achieved the most hostile notice, both from contemporaries and from historians. There can be no doubt about the bizarre tone and content of many of the Kaiser’s personal communications in telegrams, letters, marginal comments, conversations, interviews and speeches on foreign and domestic political themes. Their exceptional volume alone is remarkable: the Kaiser spoke, wrote, telegraphed, scribbled and ranted more or less continuously during the thirty years of his reign, and a huge portion of these articulations was recorded and preserved for posterity…”

Max Hastings wrote that Wilhelm “was a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.” Sean McMeekin in his book July 1914 wrote that Wilhelm had an “insecurity complex, a need for constant attention and acclaim. As one of his many critics put it, the kaiser needed to be “the stag at every hunt, the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” He also noted “Eager for praise, taking offense at the merest slight, the kaiser was a difficult man to work for. Bismarck had disdained to gratify Wilhelm II’s fragile ego after he became emperor in 1888, which led to his sacking two years later.”

Like President Trump the Kaiser did experience some push back from different governmental ministers, and was somewhat restrained during the month leading up to the war, but his constant belligerence, instability, and unscripted remarks helped set the diplomatic and governmental crisis that led to the war. Of course this was not his fault alone, the Austrian-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, French, and British all had a hand, but the Kaiser, through his words and actions during the three decades preceding the war bears much responsibility for what happened in 1914. If the Kaiser had had a Twitter account he would have certainly used it in a similar manner to President Trump.

But Germany had no checks and balances to restrain Wilhelm. He was an absolute monarch. Americans do still have institutional checks and balances to Presidential overreach or abuses should we choose to follow the Constitution, but for that to happen the leadership of the Republican Party must also act, as did their predecessors during the Nixon administration to put principle or party, and rule of law over blind obedience. This is not about partisanship; it is about the Constitution, our form of government, and yes, even the prevention of nuclear war, that being said I don’t think that todays Republicans would pass the test that Wilhelm’s advisors failed in 1914.

Character and temperament are very important in times of crisis and elevated tensions. Character is also fate. We should all tremble when we think of the lack of character and maturity shown by our President.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war one

Trump’s America: Saving the Form but Not the Soul

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In light of how President Trump and many of his advisors and defenders treat the Constitution, the principles, and norms of the American Experiment I went back to re-read British military historian Sir Basil Liddell-Hart’s small but significant work Why Don’t We Learn from History?

In it he makes some observations that are very pertinent to today, in fact very chilling words. He noted:

“What is of value in “England” and “America” and worth defending is its tradition of freedom, the guarantee of its vitality. Our civilization, like the Greek, has, for all its blundering way, taught the value of freedom, of criticism of authority, and of harmonising this with order. Anyone who urges a different system, for efficiency’s sake, is betraying the vital tradition.”

The President is an admirer of dictators and presumes himself to be above the Constitution and the laws that he swore to uphold. He uses the language and tactics of every aspiring despot labeling his critics as “enemies of the state” and uses his position for personal gain even initiates trade wars, alienates allies, praises dictators, and threatens nuclear war.

But his defenders and supporters don’t care. This includes those who are otherwise privately decent and law abiding people with supposedly Christian values tolerate and live their public lives by the code of social Darwinism.

“One can understand the point of view of the man who goes in for unabashed “piracy” and seeks his own profit regardless of others. He may draw his profit, although unconsciously his loss far exceeds it, because he is deadening his own soul.

But one cannot see sense, even of so shortsighted a kind, in those who maintain any standards of decency in private life yet advocate, or at least countenance, the law of the jungle in public and international affairs. More illogical still are those who talk of patriotic self-sacrifice and of its spiritual sublimity while preaching pure selfishness in world affairs.

What is the use of anyone sacrificing himself to preserve the country unless in the hope, and with the idea, of providing a chance to continue its spiritual progress toward becoming a better country? Otherwise he is merely helping to preserve the husk, saving the form but not the soul. Only a perverse patriotism is capable of such hopeless folly.

What is the value of patriotism if it means no more than a cat’s devotion to its own fireside rather than to human beings? And, like the cat, such a “patriot” is apt to get burned when the house catches fire.”

When I observe Trump, his administration, the Republican Congressional leaders, Evangelical Christians, and the Fox Propaganda Network I cannot but think of Liddell-Hart’s words and how relevant they are today.

When I swore my oath as a new Army Second Lieutenant in 1983 I swore 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…” Since then I have served under six Presidents, four Republicans and two Democrats. I have found admirable characteristics in five of them even if I did disagree with all of them on matters of policy or ethics at one point or another. That being said until now never did I believe that a President of the United States posed an imminent threat to the Republic, or that he would be aided and abetted by men that at one time I admired. They are the kind of men that Liddell-Hart described, and they are dangerous.

At the same time I am one of those believe in telling the truth and will continue to speak because my oath to the Constitution still matters.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Everlasting Groundhog Day that is Trump’s America

groundhog day clock

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So anyway, until tomorrow, Happy Groundhog Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The State of the Union, the Surrender of Principal, and a Historical Coincidence: Trump, Nunes, Schacht, Hungenberg, and Von Papen

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is a curious day for a minor historian like me.hopefully someday I will be considered a major historian but that aside I love the study of history and its connections to the present day, but I digress…

Today is the day that President Trump will deliver his State of the Union Address reading from a teleprompter, talking about bipartisanship, and how great he has made America. Until he begins his Twitter Storm tomorrow morning his speech will be hailed by members of the mainstream media as being “Presidential,”  in the same kind of language that Fahreed Zakaria praised the tele-Trumpter speech the President made at Davos. For eight hours tonight the mainstream media will be lost in Presidential  praises even as the Fox News Pundits break into chants of “Seig Heil!,” but I digress, because by noon Wednesday things will be back to normal.

But it is also a day where Congressman Devin Nunes will release a report attacking the veracity and motivations of FBI and Justice Department officials involved in the investigation of the President and his advisors attempts to collude with a hostile foreign power and obstruct justice before and after the 2016 election. This is actually very remarkable because it is something that has never happened in the history of the House of Representatives regarding a case involving national security. Personally, back during my 32 years as a Republican I always thought that House or Senate Democrats might do something like this but they disappointed me by never stooping to release information that might obstruct justice while at the same time kneecapping Federal law enforcement agencies. Honestly I used to think that undermining national security was something that Democrats did, I never, even after I left the GOP in 2008 thought it was something that Republicans would do; but Congressman Nunes and is compatriots are determined to ruin my fantasy that the GOP was really a pro-law and order and national security party. I mean really, even after I left the GOP their arguments about being strong on national security and pro-law enforcement gave me a hard on, but even with the blue pill I don’t think that I could get it up again after Mr. Nunes’s antics.

Coincidently today is the 85th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s accession to power, something that happened quite to the surprise of Hitler as well as the leaders of the non-Nazi political parties on the German Right and Left. The non-Nazi German conservatives thought that they could control him, just like GOP stalwarts thought that they could control then Candidate Trump in 2016.

You see I don’t think of the GOP as a new version of the Nazi Party. No, they aren’t that clever. I see them as more akin to the German conservative parties who less than six months after they helped Hitler become Chancellor, dissolved themselves in hope of keeping a place at the table in the New Germany. They are the Von Papen’s, the Hindenburg’s; they are Alfred Hugenberg, Hjalmar Schacht, and the other leaders of the DVNP (German People’s Nationalist Party), the Catholic Center Party, and others who sacrificed their honor, integrity, and self-respect to gain a place at the table of Hitler. By and large Nunes and the other members of the GOP who engage in what they are doing doom their party and very likely the country.

So today go out and lift a glass and maybe even light a tiki torch to men like the President, Congressman Nunes, his committee, and their supporters at Fox News. Let Nunes and other be like Hjalmar Schacht who proclaimed his loyalty to and defended Hitler’s Third Reich internationally, but who in the words of Supreme court Justice and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson was “The most dangerous and reprehensible type of all opportunists, someone who would use a Hitler for his own ends, and then claim, after Hitler was defeated, to have been against him all the time. He was part of a movement that he knew was wrong, but was in it just because he saw it was winning.”

Be assured; tonight I will raise a glass and I will drink, maybe until I will am legally drunk; but it will be to bolster myself for the struggle for the Constitution and country that lay ahead. I can do no less.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Shutdown is Temporarily Over but Not the Danger: the Emperor Has No Clothes

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The Shutdown is over much sooner than I expected it to be. I predicted that it would be long and bad, and for the moment I am wrong, but the temporary spending bill is just that and nobody really knows on February 8th when this agreement expires.

There are a lot of questions but at least the Democrats got the Republican House to approve a six year extension for the CHIP act which funds healthcare for children and the GOP House had fought for months. It did not however address the Dreamers although Mitch McConnell has promised that the DREAM Act will be addressed and voted on by the Senate before the next shutdown deadline. That may happen in the Senate but McConnell neither controls Paul Ryan’s House which is dead set against it not to mention President Trump.

Now the President was for a really big and loving solution to the DREAM Act until he wasn’t so only God, Jerry Falwell Jr., and maybe Franklin Graham know for sure know for sure. Of course whether they do or not really doesn’t matter until they speak with Stephen Miller and John Kelly who seem to acting as Trump’s brain in the absence of Sloppy Steve Bannon; after all after he was for it last time they told him that he was against it. I’m surprised that the President hasn’t branded Flip Flops with his name yet.

There are some very troubling things that came out of this episode. First it didn’t have to happen and that is not the Democrat’s fault, they have never been fans of shutting down the government and the proof is in the deal that Chuck Schumer thought he made with the President last Friday and the quickness in them agreeing to this continuing resolution despite the uncertainty of what will happen next.

That has pissed off a lot of progressive Democrats who are pressing for the Dreamers. Honestly I wished they had pushed harder for it but I do understand the long game in this. If McConnell honors his words and a decent majority, in the Senate approves the measure then it goes to Ryan and his Omega House caucus of bullies. The thing is that most Americans by a wide margin think that the Dreamers should be put on a path to full citizenship and if the Omegas don’t fail to do it then the next shutdown belongs to them. If they do agree to it and Trump vetoes it then it belongs even more to him. Of course the rabid immigration hawks would support them it doesn’t end well. Of course I could be wrong, I was wrong last week to a degree and I still don’t trust the President, nor McConnell, nor Ryan.

I was impressed that the Democrats did grow a spine last week and despite the crowing of the most convinced Trumpers and the anger of most disillusioned Democrats this was not a loss for the Democrats. Their willingness to negotiate followed by their stand to bring on the shutdown exposed Trump the “dealmaker” as an empty suit for all the world to see, bluster aside he was a non-player in this despite his tweets.

The danger not is that the emperor has been shown to have no clothes and that is profoundly disturbing when dealing with the current world crises. Neither our allies or our enemies will believe a word that he says and when something really bad happens he is going to have to find a way to show his manhood, and that will likely end in terrible wars, possibly nuclear. The same could prove true regarding the economy. No-matter what happens domestically in the wake of this shutdown, the next one could be worse and Trump’s now completely exposed weakness might well lead to disaster.

I admit that not every is going to agree with me. I may be a progressive and I have my idealism, but I am also a realist. The Democrats don’t have a majority and they only way to get it back is to help the GOP sink itself.

“As Sun Tzu wrote:“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” 

If the Democrats win in November, even a temporary loss on the Dreamers doesn’t matter. So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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To Stand Up Against Zealots

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am not a fan of ideologues or the “fundamentalists” of any point in the political, ideological or religious spectrum. Their lack of courage, stunted intellectualism, and inability to see things from outside their limited field of view does not allow them to face really difficult questions that confront us today.  They claim to hold the keys to the universe but sadly are hold nothing more than the key to their high school gym locker.

The Iranian novelist Salman Rushdie who has been on the run from Iranian fundamentalist ideologues since he wrote the supposedly heretical Satanic Verses once noted:

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

I believe that we are at yet another crossroads in Western civilization. This time a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

In my honest opinion I think that the worst of these are the conservative Christian theocrats and their seemingly ideological enemies the Ayn Rand following Social Darwinist “conservative libertarians.” They have no shame, their respective ideologies blind them to truth and turn them into sociopaths that only give a damn about their power and profits and they latched on to President Trump, prostrating themselves and the Republican Party to him in order that they might triumph.

Of course I will be the first to admit that there are some leftists who would be the first to put a bullet in the head of Lady Liberty to further their own cause.  But they are not the danger. They control nothing that would allow them to succeed and most cannot even agree among themselves to work together, they have nothing on Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Iranian Mullahs, or even Hugo Chavez; may God give rest to his chubby cheeks.

Say what you want about him but President Trump is not an ideologue, he can’t be, he’s too much of a self-absorbed narcissist to be an ideologue. All he wants is the adulation of his audience and the power and wealth that come with it. He may be a sociopath but it is not for the sake of any ideology. If the issue was the President alone we could survive him; but his supporters of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists of the GOP are much more dangerous, because they are true believers who actually control many of the apparatuses of government at the local, state, and federal level.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  

As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  

An ideology protects the true believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “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.” 

As I have mentioned the past couple of days my favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

That is why knowledge and critical thought even when they are uncomfortable and take us out of our comfort zone are so much more powerful and important than ideologies that are followed blindly. My words to the ideologues of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand followers of so many in the Republican Party is that of Samuel Adams who said:

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” 

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge and in doing so they surrender to tyranny and servitude though they think they will end up on top.

That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today and why as long as anyone who cares about freedom has a breath in them they must be opposed.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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