Tag Archives: the paranoid style in american politics

Fear, Paranoia, Trump, Evil, and the Absence Of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every day that I see a tweet or hear President Donald Trump go into incoherent

streams of banal blathering I am reminded that the man has no ability to empathize with any other human being, even his family. It does not matter whether it is people suffering in a hurricane, people who have seen mass numbers of family and friends murdered by domestic terrorists, labeling racial and religious minorities as terrorists, criminals, animals, or vermin; or encouraging violence against political opponents and the press at his rallies, he always makes things about him, and plays to the fears of his base.

His lies are often whoppers and those he has been proven by many organizations to have lied or distorted the truth well over 10,000 times during his presidency, often to the detriment of his policies and programs, and which subvert the alliances and treaties that help to keep America great.

I cannot imagine any other American President with such an absence of empathy. He displays all the traits of a narcissistic sociopath, devoid of empathy or the capacity to love anyone other than himself. Everything else is fungible to him. He has no real friends, only temporary partners, and that includes his multiple wives and paramours.

Yet for some reason the bulk of the Republican establishment and its conservative Christian base not only supports him but make up theological jibber-jabber to justify their support on the thinnest Biblical support, usually biblical verses or stories taken completely out of context. But he appeals to their fears, and I doubt that they will abandon him unless the economy completely collapses leaving them destitute, in which case they will likely blame whoever he blames and still support him, just like so many religious people who in other nations have tied their religion to despots.

Believe me, religious people of any faith can live to the highest and most commendable humanitarian deeds as a result of their faith, while others can sink to depravity which only true believers can sink.

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

Whitehead was right, and the latter will follow the President into the abyss. The American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Sadly, such people are capable of anything. Historian Timothy Snyder reminded us shortly after President Trump’s Election reminded us in his book On Tyranny: 

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Last night I wrote about the uncomfortable necessity of trying to understand evil, its causes and those who perpetuate and encourage it, including the current American President, a man incapable of feeling for others, or taking responsibility for his words and actions. The same is true of many of his supporters. Gustave Gilbert who served as a psychologist to the major war crimes defendants at Nuremberg noted:

“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.”

The President has a dark Charisma which his devout followers find irresistible, and since he is not a fringe character, but the leader of one of the most powerful countries on the planet, this is not something that we can easily dismiss. Nor can we dismiss the ever increasing power of the Executive branch of the government,  the specialization and distancing of bureaucrats from the policies they implement, and the pressure of pastors, employers, family, church members, and party officials on people who would normally not harm a fly. However, as Conservative columnist and former Bush Administration staffer Michael Gerson wrote in July of 2017: “The president and his men are incapable of feeling shame about shameful things.”

While President Trump is a catalyst for many of the things happening in the country and the world, he is not the cause. The seeds have been planted for decades by preachers, pundits, and politicians that specialize in promoting fear and paranoia in their followers.

The late American historian, Richard Hofstadter wrote:

“The idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

This is important at a time of increasing economic uncertainly, a world where the old stable democratic orders are under attack, the paranoia increases, along with it fear, racism, and war across the spectrum. A leader who encourages violence and turns every issue into a personal animus only emboldens his followers.

Historian Christopher Browning wrote of this in his book Ordinary Men:

“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.”

Holocaust survivor and philosopher Primo Levi warned us of them, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Whether President Trump wins re-election or doesn’t the danger will not decrease. Many of his followers, and many Trump himself may refuse to stand aside if he loses. some threatening civil war if he loses. But, if he wins he has the power to further dismantle the Constitutional guardrails that have been the protectors of our political system, as well as turn all the instruments of power into his personal weapons. He is already doing so. This is the practice of tyrants throughout history.

Anyway, I’m done for the night as we wait for Hurricane Dorian to reach us sometime overnight. Having been through quite a number of hurricanes in North Carolina and Virginia I know how dangerous they are. My heart is with all of Dorian’s victims in Bermuda and in the Southeastern United States. I have many friends in harm’s way. I cannot ignore their suffering, unlike the President, and many of his minion.

So until tomorrow, as long as we weather the storm without major power outages, flooding, or storm damage, I will write again.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under ethics, faith, History, holocaust, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, weather

A Thought on Election Eve: Trump’s Genie Won’t go Back into the Bottle without a Fight

1-_bgnufl7adzwkz99mhydma

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I came back from my trip to Gettysburg yesterday pondering the future of the country and I find little solace in history right now. It seems to me that no-matter what the outcome, whether Donald Trump loses, or by some chance wins, that the country will have been changed for the worse and that no-matter the outcome that the results of this election will continue to divide the country. The seething hatred which has been building for years through conservative talk radio, political preachers, and a Republican Party so devoid of ideas that it has to cow-tow to the raging racists of the Alt Right, Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and paranoid preachers of doom to support Donald Trump is a genie that won’t go back into poisonous bottle from which it came without a fight.

If Trump wins we will have elected an authoritarian with no respect for any virtue other than might and money make right. We will have elected a man who has promised during his campaign to crush the very liberties enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; a man who has promised to jail, prosecute, or sue political opponents and critics; a man who has promised to rule through race and religion not the principle that “all men are created equal.”

Trump has brought out the worst in many Americans and he cultivates hatred and fear. He exemplifies what the late Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Trump demonstrates a profound sense of ignorance, rabid paranoia, wrapped in narcissism, and bathed in privileged self-pity never seen in a major party nominee for President in this country. Bit his followers don’t seem to mind. 

But then he has tapped into and attracted people who have been immersed in the paranoia of the religious right and the devotees of conservative talk-radio, Fox News, and the histrionic bevy conservative media websites and organizations, especially the Drudge Report, Breitbart News, and World Net Daily. These media organs have long prepared and sowed both anger and hatred toward any and all political opponents which made Trump’s rise a given. This is a group of people who have no sense of the Constitution or the merits of Republican government and democracy. What they want they want now, and they prefer an authoritarian leader who will trample the institutions of government that Americans have preserved for 241 years and endured a bloody civil war in order to protect.

Hofstadter, a historian who died far to0 young wrote:

“All this is the more maddening, as Edward Shils has pointed out, in a populistic culture which has always set a premium on government by the common man and through the common judgement and which believes deeply in the sacred character of publicity. Here the politician expresses what a large part of the public feels. The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed professor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by applauding the politicians as the pursue the subversive teacher, the suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser. There has always been in our national experience a type of mind which elevates hatred to a kind of creed; for this mind, group hatreds take a place in politics similar to the class struggle in some other modern societies. Filled with obscure and ill-directed grievances and frustrations, with elaborate hallucinations about secrets and conspiracies, groups of malcontents have found scapegoats at various times in Masons or abolitionists, Catholics, Mormons, or Jews, Negroes, or immigrants, the liquor interests or the international bankers. In the succession of scapegoats chosen by the followers of this tradition of Know-Nothingism, the intelligentsia have at last in our time found a place.” 

As far as their leader, Trump himself, Hofstadter writing over fifty years ago wrote:

“As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated–if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.”

The style is that of despots worldwide, Trump’s rhetorical devices are much like those of Adolf Hitler. The message of Trump, in his own words is “I alone can fix it.”  

Tuesday, November 8th will be a watershed election, but as I said at the beginning of the article, no-matter what happens with Donald Trump, is that the paranoia and hatred that he has brought into mainstream will not go away quietly, and most likely will get worse, for in victory he and his supporters will take revenge on their opponents using the police power of the government that many so despise; while if he loses, the most frustrated and deluded of his supporters may turn to violence.

Neither is good for our nation, and I would very much like to be proven wrong in my assessment; but that being said and we must be vigilant if our Republic is to survive. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Kim Davis, Religious Liberty & Civil Rights

150903-kim-davis-mug-535p_2a10fb4a29fd25fb6bf13a4680f1087c.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Kim Davis: A Martyr for Tyranny and Intolerance

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am just a putting up a quick and hopefully provocative note to end this workweek before I go with Judy to spend some time with friends over a few cold beers. I waded in to the Kim Davis-Gay Marriage controversy knowing that anything that I said would be controversial. Especially when I dared to directly confront the issue and throw the bullshit flag on her, her lawyers, and the political hacks that support her.

She is not a new Rosa Parks, for Rosa only wanted a seat on the bus, not to kick people off of the bus. She is not a new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for he only sought to ensure that blacks had unimpeded civil rights and voting rights. In that she is much more like George Wallace, or Governor Ross Barnett who defied a Federal order to allow James Meredith, a black man to attend Ole Miss in 1962. Governor Barnett’s stand led to violence and attacks on Federal Marshals and his supporters wanted nothing less than to reignite the Civil War. If you want to read a great book about that incident read Walter Lord’s classic The Past that Would Not Die. 

Likewise Davis is not like a Jewish victim of the Third Reich, for Hitler’s argument against the Jews was over his view that the Jews were a race; thus even Jews who had converted to Christianity were still considered Jews by Hitler. In fact she was not fired for her race, but for failing to obey a law that she disagreed with, or to fail to serve someone she despised. That is something that the Jews of Germany never got to do. As a historian who spent the majority of his undergraduate and graduate work studying Weimar and the Third Reich, I know a bit more about this than Davis’s hack lawyer Mat Staver, who raised this specter yesterday.

There are all kinds of things that Mrs. Davis is not; and civil rights martyr is not one of them. She is much more like the county clerks of the Jim Crow era who denied civil rights to blacks than she is Rosa Parks, or for that matter, any other real champion of civil rights. She is a champion of her right to discriminate based on her religious beliefs; she is a martyr for the cause of religious tyranny and oppression. For two months she has refused to carry out the law. She has refused to honor people’s civil rights, or even to allow her employees to do that. That is the issue. If a Moslem clerk refused a Christian a marriage license would she or her supporters back them? Of course not; that would be Christian persecution, but when Christians do it to Gays, that is freedom of religion.

I have begun reading a fascinating book by the late Richard Hofstadter, a remarkable historian who studied American politics. The book I am reading is The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays that he wrote not long after Barry Goldwater’s abortive presidential campaign. In the book Hofstadter wrote concerning that movement words which are incredibly accurate when looking at today’s so-called religious-conservatives, or more correctly called the Christian Right. Goldwater, who Hofstadter critiqued fairly harshly said a number of things that those who claim to be conservatives should pay attention to or doom them and their cause to irrelevance. Sadly Hofstadter died well before Goldwater had his epiphany regarding the Regarding the Christian Right he said:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’ ” Barry Goldwater 
(1909-1998) US Senator (R-Arizona) Source: Congressional Record, September 16, 1981

Goldwater later explained his understanding of religious tolerance and compromise that was the core of American civil religion versus the intense sectarianism embodied by the Christian Right:

“Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution.  We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution.  We treasure the freedoms that document protects… “By maintaining the separation of church and state,” he explained, “the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars… Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers?  Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?” 

He also said something that is coming true today: “Well, I’ve spent quite a number of years carrying the flag of the ‘Old Conservatism.’  And I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics.  The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength.” 

Hofstadter wrote about the dualism and lack of ability to compromise embodied by such people:

“As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated–if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.”

Davis and her supporters fit this to a tee. Compromise is hateful to them and victory must be total or it is not satisfying. Compromise and partial success reinforces the powerlessness they feel. That is why today, in the wake of the ruling of a judge appointed by George W. Bush, they are apoplectic because they know that they will soon be yesterday’s news.

I will write more about this soon, and probably re-write some older articles on the subject to reinforce my point. For those who think I am anti-Christian or want to crush religious liberty, instead I want to preserve it for all, not just a few.

So tonight I wish you peace, love, and good craft beer,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

39 Comments

Filed under christian life, civil rights, LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary