Tag Archives: Sinclair Lewis

“It Can’t Happen Here” but it is Happening Before Our Eyes

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1935 the American writer Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel called It Can’t Happen Here. It was a semi-satirical novel about a Fascist state coming to power in the United States. In it Lewis wrote these words:

“A country that tolerates evil means- evil manners, standards of ethics-for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end.”

I believe that we are seeing that happen before our eyes. That being said I realized from the beginning of the Trump campaign that it would to this at home and abroad. I was looking back at my archives going even back to 2012 after President Obama’s re-election and found that I had written about Trump’s maniacal desire to upend defy political and social norms and demonstrate his contempt for the Constitution and our laws. When he announced his campaign he began by appealing to nationalism and racism and he never stopped.

On December 15th 2015 I wrote these words in an article entitled The Mob Determined the Theme. Some people thought that I was writing about the Mafia or gangs, but I was talking about mob rule. Those words are here:

“When Albert Speer discussed the ability of Adolf Hitler to captivate the German people he noted something important. He discussed how Hitler and his minions played to them set by the disgruntled and angry German population. Speer wrote, “The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

Hitler played to that misery, insecurity and the obsessions of the politically and economically disaffected “conservative base” that no longer trusted the party establishments of the old-line conservative parties. He also played to the deep-rooted racism and anti-Semitism of those people. Hitler was an outsider, he was not indebted to any traditional party hierarchy and as such was able to throw away convention and play to the fear and anger of many Germans.

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Donald Trump is doing today and he is running circles around the traditional politicians of the Republican Party. Every time trump says something that would have gotten himself blown out of the race twenty years ago had he said such things, today his poll numbers keep going up. He is now trending around 35% in most polls of GOP voters and my guess is that those numbers are low, as some supporters may not be willing to tell a pollster that they are for Trump, at least yet. My guess is that Trump’s support in the GOP is probably higher than 40% and won’t go down much. The party hierarchy and most of Trump’s primary rivals consistently criticize Trump, but most say that they will back him if he is the nominee. I cannot imagine that being the case twenty years ago when both the party establishment and the voters would have dumped him in a New York minute.

Aug. 21. 2015 Mobile, AL, Trump supporters at his campaign pep rally in Ladd Peebles Stadium. These women are all party of the Republican Party and plan to vote for Trump.  Over 20 thousand came to the Ladd-Peebles Stadium to attend Trumps campaign pep rally. 40,000 were expected to come.

Trump understands the mood of much of the traditionally conservative public better than his Republican establishment competitors. Trump is not stupid, unlike Hitler who actually believed in his message, Trump is not a radical, he cannot be, he has too much invested in the system. Instead, he is a street smart and pragmatic businessman who is exploiting the situation on the ground to his advantage. His opponents and the GOP establishment are frightened, but like the hidebound conservatives of the Weimar Republic who either dismissed or Hitler or thought that they could contain him are not willing to make a stand. As a result, Trump is able to play to the mood of the base and to coin a phrase, to “trump the establishment” by channeling the deepest anger, fear, hatred, xenophobia, and racism that the GOP establishment refuses to acknowledge. When there is a push back by the establishment it further angers the base, and Trump, quite adroitly threatens to leave the party; something which would doom the GOP in the 2016 general election, and possibly shatter the party.

Trump’s GOP opponents should not underestimate him and neither should establishment Democrats. Trump is using his celebrity bombast and the democratic process to take control of a major political party, and he is a lot smarter than most political analysts give him credit. As such, as a non-establishment outsider, Trump has a chance at taking over a major political party, something that has never before happened in the United States.

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, hatred, and fear to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible. To paraphrase Speer’s words about Hitler and Goebbels: By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Muslims and immigrants, Trump gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions of a disaffected GOP base.”

That was in 2015.

On July 22nd 2017 I wrote I Alone Can Fix It: Trump’s Dictatorial Message as I observed the new GOP nominee at the GOP National Convention. Five months later I wrote on December 27th 2016 I wrote Freedom is Never More than a Generation from Extinction. On March 22nd of this year I wrote Trump’s America: Saving the Form But not the Soul. I could go on and link many other articles but I will not, I have incriminated myself enough tonight.

Now that Donald Trump is in power he has used the Department of Homeland Security through a militarized ICE using mass incarcerations, expulsions, separating children from their families, and operating prison facilities from which people who are not with any crime charged are held indefinitely without legal representation. He has opening given support to White Supremacists including Neo-Nazis. He continues to threaten the Press, the political opposition, and long time allies using his Twitter account and his sycophants at Fox News and a multitude of Right Wing propaganda outlets to peddle lies as truth label those who tell the truth as liars and peddlers of Fake News.

He shows no interest in Civil Rights except support measures at the Federal, State, and local levels to roll back civil rights for ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, women, and LGBTQ people. His economic and social policies are designed to benefit his allies, especially the top 1% and politically reliable Evangelical Christians while impoverishing and disenfranchising all others. He labels all who oppose or criticize him and his policies as enemies of the state and traitors.

In terms of foreign policy he has during the course of his presidency personally undermined and now destroyed alliances and treaties that Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Barak Obama worked to sustain. Those Presidents who included Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan helped build those alliances and forge those treaties for our good and the good of our allies and those who we welcomed into the fold of democratic ideals. Instead he makes diplomatic war on our allies while openly praising dictators abroad and carrying out the dictates of Vladimir Putin.

This brings me back to his attacks on the American Justice system of which almost all are tied to his, his family’s, and his advisor’s connection with Russia attempts to undermine American elections and the military attack and occupation of parts of the Ukraine, which during his campaign he supported by saying that the conquered Ukrainian regions “probably preferred Russian rule.” Neither before or after his election did he, his aides ever condemn the shoot-down of a commercial airliner by Russian forces near the Russian-Ukrainian border. The actions in the Ukraine led the G-7 to expel Russia. This weekend the President proposed reinstating the Russians despite the fact that they are still actively working against the United States and our Allies.

He is launching a trade war with our allies and leading trading partners which will be disastrous to most Americans.

Later today he will attempt to “negotiate a deal” with the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un while admitting that he has done no preparation for it. I would hope for a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula but I believe that the President will either come back with a deal that works to the advantage of the North Koreans or which will fail and bring about war in Northeast Asia. If he does come up with a deal it is very possible that he will use it as a means to go to war against Iran which will result in an apocalyptic conflagration in the Middle-East.

As he does all of this he surrounds himself with terrified yes men who are too afraid of him to tell the truth while increasing his attacks on the law, the Constitution, and people that he sees as his personal enemies at home and abroad. As I watch him and read what he writes I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s who wrote:

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police … yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.” 

The President’s aggressiveness is not brought about by confidence, it is brought about by his fear, he cannot abide criticism of any kind, thus he must crush it.

I fear for what is coming and I am not sure if our institutions, laws, or Constitution will survive in any recognizable form. I want them to, but right now I do not see light at the end of this tunnel, and I would much rather be wrong than right.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Absence of Empathy: Mass Movements and the Tea Party

“Empathy, alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.” Eric Hoffer

The problem with mass movements is that they often breed a near religious devotion and fervor in their leaders and followers. The resulting sense of messianic purpose breeds a corresponding lack of compassion, empathy and even hatred toward others who do not agree with them, or who they blame for the ills of the world.

Mass movements have often had religious roots, and even those that do not, and appear more political in nature have an element of faith that is critical to their cohesion and success. That faith is a central part of their message, as National Tea Party Founder and Leader Michael Johns said in 2010 when asked about the centrality of the Christian faith to it: “I’d say religion is not core, but I would say that faith is.”

The core beliefs of a mass movement can be religious, or an ideology, or a combination of religious and political ideas that sets them apart. This elevates the cause of the “true believers” in the movement to the level of a religious-political crusade, and allows them to wrap that cause, their ideology and themselves with an exaggerated sense of messianic certitude that allows for no deviation, no tolerance of others and which does not countenance or cultivate empathy.

Captain Gustave Gilbert who served as the Army Psychologist to the defendants ant the Nuremberg major War Crimes trials wrote of his experience:

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

Much of this can be seen in the words and actions of leaders of the Tea Party movement, the growing anti-government militia movement and other extremist groups. The apocryphal quote attributed to Sinclair Lewis “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” does seem appropriate. However, I think a more descriptive and accurate quotes from Lewis’s  books It Can’t Happen Here and Gideon Planish are far better. In It Can’t Happen Here Lewis wrote: “But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.” In Gideon Planish he said: “I just wish people wouldn’t quote Lincoln or the Bible, or hang out the flag or the cross, to cover up something that belongs more to the bank-book and the three golden balls.”

The fact that many Tea Party leaders and followers embrace a political ideology-theology called Christian Dominionism helps endow that movement with a near religious fervor not typically seen in American politics.

It allows the movement’s leaders and media champions to make astounding comments, like this from Rush Limbaugh:

“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?”

Likewise compare this comment of Gary North, a major supporter of the Tea Party and adviser to Rand Paul to the German Nuremberg Laws, which deprived Jews of the citizenship and rights. North wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

The Nuremberg Laws stated:

“A citizen of the Reich is that subject only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” and that “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich. He has no right to vote in political affairs and he cannot occupy public office.”

While one espouses a religious litmus test and the other a racial one does not negate the fact that they are both written with the same intent, to deprive other citizens of equality and freedom.

North’s understanding of the use of democracy to achieve total domination of the country and culture is well documented. He wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

While many Tea Party leaders deny the religious-ideological goals of the Dominionists, the fact is that they often walk hand in hand, working alongside each other for the same basic ends. The veneer of faith masks the evil that lies at the heart of the movement. Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

It is with this understanding of their lack of empathy that we must weigh the words, actions and announced goals of those in Tea Party leadership, be they elected officials, organizers and leaders, media supporters and of course their religious benefactors.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, Political Commentary

Would You Crucify Him? The Hard Question Christians Need to Ask Themselves Today

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Would you crucify Him
Would you crucify Him…, my religious friend?
Would you crucify Him…, talking ’bout the sweet Lord Jesus
If He’d walk right here among you once again?

Well it’s another Jousting at Windmills Day at Padre Steve’s World and today we go back in history to a time the called the 70s.

Back in the late 1970s John Michael Talbot, a former rocker turned early contemporary Christian music artist became a Catholic and a lay Franciscan. Around that time he participated in a recording with a number of other artists from that early part of the CCM era, Second Chapter of Acts, Keith Greene, Barry McGuire and his brother Terry to perform a musical about the book of Acts called Firewind. In it John Michael wrote and performed a song that has haunted me ever since. It is a song that forces me to look at my life and the way that I treat others in the light of the demands of the Gospel. It is called Would You Crucify Him?

It really is one of the most haunting, and to use Evangelical Speak “convicting” songs I have ever heard. Unfortunately I think that the message of the song is often unheard or ignored by most Christians. I think this is the case since the time of Constantine when the Church gained the political backing of the State. Since then in almost every clime and place that the Church has enjoyed that privileged status it is almost always used in ways that would so grieve Jesus.

One cannot read the Gospels nor many of the Old Testament Prophets and think anything else. The harshest condemnations found in Jesus’ message almost always were directed at the religious establishment which used its power for its own gain. It was they who quite often despised the those that Jesus showed the greatest compassion and love: the alien, the woman, the leper, the tax collector, the criminal, the hated Roman occupiers of Palestine and others on the margins of society who were looked upon with scorn by the religious people of his day.

The sad thing is scorn and distain for the people that Jesus reached out to the most that is so often the case today among the leaders of what has to be called the political Religious Right. Unfortunately that attitude is so widespread among those people’s disciples that hatred in the name of Jesus is the new normal. The attitude is one of entitlement and privilege that frankly is scary. Rather than reach out in love and care to those different and than them they viciously attack them supposedly to “obey God and follow the Bible.” It is sad to say that quite often that we are no different than the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

I have felt the sharpness of those attacks. Though I am a Christian I have been called a Nazi, a Communist, a Socialist an apostate and even most recently “Hitler’s Love Child” by a Twitter Troll and worse. The invective that I have been exposed to after my return from Iraq suffering from PTSD and questioning faith and struggling to believe in God again even while trying to minister to people facing death in ICUs and ERs really changed me. When faith returned it was different and I am glad for that and now for that matter really don’t give a damn what “Conservative Christians” think of me.

Unfortunately those that call me these things are all self identified Conservative Christians, mostly Evangelicals but sometimes Catholics and Mainline Christians who also identify themselves as Patriots who believe in the Constitution, whatever that means. The fact that I have sworn an oath to defend that Constitution and their rights under it and have done so for 32 years in both the Army and Navy in peace and war is lost on them. Instead I am the Nazi because I dare criticize their practice of the faith and stand up for those that they hate.

As a historian who has spent much of my academic life studying Weimar and the Nazi regime I have to say that those that most resemble the Nazis today are Conservative Christians, the whole God and Country crowd. The same understanding of faith that allowed “Conservative Bible Believing” German Christians to wholeheartedly support the Hitler regime and for those Evangelicals that want to claim the Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a “Conservative” they had better think again. If they had actually read his books, writings and sermons they would find that he and most of the other leaders of the Confessing Church weren’t conservative at all, not in the sense that modern “Conservative Christians” understand the word.

Thus I have become a bit sensitive and when I see people who wrap themselves in the flag and claim the banner of the Cross mistreat others bothers me. There is a quote often misattributed to Sinclair Lewis that says “When Fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” The quote actually appears to be a condensation of his thoughts and writings but taken in the context of when it appeared in the 1930s is quite correct. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco all co-opted the conservative Christians of their nations by appealing to their fears of atheistic Communism and Socialism as well as minorities, Jews, homosexuals and any other group.

The fact that many justify their assaults on others not like them by claiming that “the other side is just as bad or just as hateful” miss the whole point of Jesus who was quite empathetic about telling his disciples to “turn the other cheek” and “repay evil with good.” The really sad thing is that there will be probably at least one person at some time that visits this site and comments on this article who either tells me that I have misunderstood Jesus or cites another Bible verse to justify hating and mistreating others.

I am appalled at the way self identified Christians rant at people they disagree with, disapprove of or simply hate. I am appalled when I see them make common cause with non-Christian ideologues like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and others who spew venom at liberals, gays, women, blacks, Moslems, immigrants and others on a daily basis. Because of this I have taken up the causes a support the liberties of these people because they are the people that Jesus would have done the same for in his day.

But back to the song. Talbot and others like him came out of the 1960s and large parts of the Christian church condemned the whole youth revolution of the time. The things said by preachers of the hippies and the war protesters and those that were in the rock and roll music scene were and are shameful. So when a few churches began welcoming the “Jesus Freaks” who came out of it it was pretty cool.

The Talbots, Barry McGuire and others were among the first and they were quite revolutionary for their day. Barry McGuire’s song Don’t Blame God for the Sins of America is terrifying, especially when one sees just the incestuous relationship between much of the Christian Right, big business and the industries that promote war and violence.

Of course this was before established “Christian” record companies sensed the chance to make a fast buck by commercializing “Contemporary Christian Music” bought up the original small market Christian labels such as Sparrow, Birdwing and Maranatha! Music and turned it into a pile of very profitable slick rubbish. The fact is that there is not an Evangelical Christian entertainment conglomerate that would ever allow an artist to record a song like Don’t Blame God or Would You Crucify Him? today.

The first time I heard Would You Crucify Him? in 1979 on Firewind I cried. It struck my heart and I realized how easy it would be for me to be just like the Pharisees, Sadducees or the Imperial Church that used religion to keep power and crush the weak or those that questioned them.

Take the time to let the lyrics of the song set in. If you claim to be any kind of Christian please don’t blow them off.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5pAyKWbtOU

Sometimes, in the cool of the evenin’
Truth comes like a Lover in the wind
Sometimes, when my thoughts have gone misleadin’
She’ll ask that same old question once again…

Chorus:
Would you crucify Him
Would you crucify Him…, my old friend?
Would you crucify Him…, talking ’bout the sweet Lord Jesus
If He’d walk right here among you once again?

She’s askin’, How many times have you looked down to the harlot
Lookin’ through her tears, pretendin’ you don’t know?
For once you were just like her, how can you be now so self righteous
When in the name of the Lord you throw the first stone

So now I turn to you through your years of your robes and stained-glass windows
Do you vainly echo your prayers “to please the Lord?”
Profess the Marriage with your tongue, but your mind dreams like the harlot
But if the Judge looks to your thoughts can’t you guess your reward?

Would you crucify Him
Would you crucify Him…, my religious friend?
Would you crucify Him…, talking ’bout the sweet Lord Jesus
If He’d walk right here among you once again?

Yet how many times have you quoted from your Bible
To justify your eye for your eye and your tooth for your tooth?
You say that He didn’t mean what He was plainly sayin’
But like the Pharisee, my friend, you’re an educated fool!

Copyright John Michael Talbot 1979 from the Album Firewind

Peace

Padre Steve+

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