Richard Rohr Meditation: Radical Politics

If you walk around with hatred and prejudice in your heart and mind all day, morally you’re just as much a killer as the one who pulls out the gun. That seems to be what Jesus is saying. The evil and genocide of World War II was the final result of decades of negative and paranoid thinking among good German Christians, Catholic and Lutheran. The tragic fascism of Nazi Germany was fomenting in people’s hearts long before a political leader came to catalyze their hate and resentment. Now it seems we are seeing the same in the United States.

Jesus tells us to not harbor hateful anger or call people names even in our hearts like “fool” or “worthless person” (Matthew 5:22). If we’re walking around all day thinking, “What an idiot he is,” we are already in the state of sin. Sin is more a state of separation and superiority than any concrete action—which is only the symptom. How we live in our hearts is our real truth.

.. Jesus insists that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). For Jesus, prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love, returning to love, trusting that love is the unceasing stream of reality. Prayer isn’t primarily words; it’s an attitude, a stance, a state that precedes “saying” any individual prayers. That’s why Paul could say, “Pray unceasingly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If we think of prayer as requiring words, it is surely impossible to pray always.

Sessions’s Use of Bible Passage to Defend Immigration Policy Draws Fire

Many were concerned that Mr. Sessions’s chosen chapter, Romans 13, had been commonly used to defend slavery and oppose the American Revolution.

.. The directive has led to the fracturing of hundreds of migrant families, funneling children into shelters and foster homes.

Mr. Sessions said, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”

He added: “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful.”

.. “The founding fathers created the criminal justice system to be a largely secular criminal justice system,” he said. “They didn’t have in mind punishing criminals and condemning them using Bible verses.”

.. Before the nation’s founding, it was frequently used by Loyalists to oppose the American Revolution, Dr. Fea said. And in the 19th century, pro-slavery Southerners often cited the chapter’s opening verses to defend slavery — in particular, adherence to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the seizure and return of runaway slaves.

.. Outside the United States, the passage was used by Christians in Europe to defend Nazi rule and by white religious conservatives in South Africa to defend apartheid
.. “It’s an endorsement of empire,” Gay L. Byron, a professor of the New Testament and early Christianity at the Howard University School of Divinity, said of the passage on Friday. “Whenever governments need to try to gain leverage in a debate, they say something like that.”
.. Mr. Sessions cited the Bible in his speech because he was responding to religious leaders’ criticism of the zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration.
.. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, addressed the issue on Thursday in response to a reporter who asked, “Where does it say in the Bible that it’s moral to take children away from their mothers?”

Ms. Sanders responded that she was not aware of what Mr. Sessions was referring to but added that it is “biblical” for a government to enforce the law. “That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” she said.

.. Dr. Byron, the divinity school professor, said Mr. Sessions’s use of the passage is a classic case of a politician “cherry-picking” the Bible for statements that match their policy. “What’s missing is the fact that there are so many other biblical statements and mandates to take care of children and take care of those who are marginalized,” she said. “We don’t hear Sessions referencing those texts.”

 

The Fake-News Fallacy

Old fights about radio have lessons for new fights about the Internet.

Radio, in its early days, was seen as a means for spreading hysteria and hatred, just as the Internet is today.

.. but Schwartz is the latest of a number of researchers to argue that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. As Schwartz tells it, there was no mass hysteria, only small pockets of concern that quickly burned out. He casts doubt on whether Dock had even heard the broadcast. Schwartz argues that newspapers exaggerated the panic to better control the upstart medium of radio, which was becoming the dominant source of breaking news in the thirties. Newspapers wanted to show that radio was irresponsible and needed guidance from its older, more respectable siblings in the print media, such “guidance” mostly taking the form of lucrative licensing deals and increased ownership of local radio stations.

.. Columbia education professor and broadcaster Lyman Bryson declared that unrestrained radio was “one of the most dangerous elements in modern culture.”

.. Iowa senator Clyde Herring, a Democrat, declared. He announced a bill that would require broadcasters to submit shows to the F.C.C. for review before airing.

.. Everywhere you looked in the thirties, authoritarian leaders were being swept to power with the help of radio. The Nazi Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda deployed a force called the Funkwarte, or Radio Guard, that went block by block to insure that citizens tuned in to Hitler’s major broadcast speeches,

.. homegrown radio demagogues like Father Charles Coughlin and the charismatic Huey Long made some people wonder about a radio-aided Fascist takeover in America. For Thompson, Welles had made an “admirable demonstration” about the power of radio. It showed the danger of handing control of the airwaves over to the state.

..  “The greatest organizers of mass hysterias and the mass delusions today are states using the radio to excite terrors, incite hatreds, inflame masses.”

..  “I wouldn’t be here without Twitter,” he declared on Fox News in March. Yet the Internet didn’t just give him a megaphone. It also helped him peddle his lies through a profusion of unreliable media sources that undermined the old providers of established fact. Throughout the campaign, fake-news stories, conspiracy theories, and other forms of propaganda were reported to be flooding social networks.

.. The problem was not simply that people had been able to spread lies but that the digital platforms were set up in ways that made them especially potent. The “share” button sends lies flying around the Web faster than fact checkers can debunk them. The supposedly neutral platforms use personalized algorithms to feed us information based on precise data models of our preferences, trapping us in “filter bubbles”

.. The threat of fake news was compounded by this sense that the role of the press had been ceded to an arcane algorithmic system created by private companies that care only about the bottom line.

.. The image of Arab Spring activists using Twitter to challenge repressive dictators has been replaced, in the public imagination, by that of isis propagandists luring vulnerable Western teen-agers to Syria via YouTube videos and Facebook chats.

.. the birth of the technology brought about a communications revolution comparable to that of the Internet. For the first time, radio allowed a mass audience to experience the same thing simultaneously from the comfort of their homes

.. John Dewey called radio “the most powerful instrument of social education the world has ever seen.” Populist reformers demanded that radio be treated as a common carrier and give airtime to anyone who paid a fee.

.. broadcasters were under intense pressure to show that they were not turning listeners into a zombified mass ripe for the Fascist picking. What they developed in response is, in Goodman’s phrase, a “civic paradigm”: radio would create active, rational, tolerant listeners—in other words, the ideal citizens of a democratic society. Classical-music-appreciation shows were developed with an eye toward uplift. Inspired by progressive educators, radio networks hosted “forum” programs, in which citizens from all walks of life were invited to discuss the matters of the day, with the aim of inspiring tolerance and political engagement. One such program, “America’s Town Meeting of the Air,” featured in its first episode a Communist, a Fascist, a Socialist, and a democrat.

.. much of the progressive concern about listeners’ abilities stemmed from the belief that Americans were, basically, dim-witted—an idea that gained currency after intelligence tests on soldiers during the First World War supposedly revealed discouraging news about the capacities of the average American.

.. Today, when we speak about people’s relationship to the Internet, we tend to adopt the nonjudgmental language of computer science. Fake news was described as a “virus” spreading among users who have been “exposed” to online misinformation. The proposed solutions to the fake-news problem typically resemble antivirus program

..  One rarely cited Pew statistic shows that only four per cent of American Internet users trust social media “a lot,” which suggests a greater resilience against online misinformation than overheated editorials might lead us to expect.

..  Most people seem to understand that their social-media streams represent a heady mixture of gossip, political activism, news, and entertainment

.. You might see this as a problem, but turning to Big Data-driven algorithms to fix it will only further entrench our reliance on code to tell us what is important about the world—which is what led to the problem in the first place.

.. Young Trump enthusiasts turned Internet trolling into a potent political tool, deploying the “folk stuff” of the Web—memes, slang, the nihilistic humor of a certain subculture of Web-native gamer—to give a subversive, cyberpunk sheen to a movement that might otherwise look like a stale reactionary blend of white nationalism and anti-feminism.

.. For conservatives, the rise of online gatekeepers may be a blessing in disguise. Throwing the charge of “liberal media bias” against powerful institutions has always provided an energizing force for the conservative movement

.. The first modern conservatives were members of the America First movement, who found their isolationist views marginalized in the lead-up to the Second World War and vowed to fight back by forming the first conservative media outlets.

.. Since attacks on the mid-century liberal consensus were inherently controversial, conservatives found themselves constantly in regulators’ sights.

.. In 1961, a watershed moment occurred with the leak of a memo from labor leaders to the Kennedy Administration which suggested using the Fairness Doctrine to suppress right-wing viewpoints. To many conservatives, the memo proved the existence of the vast conspiracy they had long suspected.

.. Thus was born the character of the persecuted truthteller standing up to a tyrannical government—a trope on which a billion-dollar conservative-media juggernaut has been built.

.. conservative skepticism of gatekeepers is not without a historical basis. The Fairness Doctrine really was used by liberal groups to silence conservatives, typically by flooding stations with complaints and requests for airtime to respond

.. This created a chilling effect, with stations often choosing to avoid controversial material. The technical fixes implemented by Google and Facebook in the rush to fight fake news seem equally open to abuse, dependent, as they are, on user-generated reports.

.. A recent report by the investigative nonprofit ProPublica shows how anti-racist activism can often fall afoul of Facebook rules against offensive material, while a post by the Louisiana representative Clay Higgins calling for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims was deemed acceptable.

.. Despite the focus on algorithms, A.I., filter bubbles, and Big Data, these questions are political as much as technical. Regulation has become an increasingly popular notion; the Democratic senator Cory Booker has called for greater antitrust scrutiny of Google and Facebook, while Stephen Bannon reportedly wants to regulate Google and Facebook like public utilities.

.. a slew of tech companies banned the neo-Nazi blog the Daily Stormer, essentially blacklisting it from the Web.

.. Zuckerberg recently posted a fifty-seven-hundred-word manifesto announcing a new mission for Facebook that goes beyond the neutral-seeming mandate to “make the world more open and connected.” Henceforth, Facebook would seek to “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” The manifesto was so heavy on themes of civic responsibility that many took it as a blueprint for a future political campaign.

Failing All Tests of the Presidency

Donald Trump is many things — most of them despicable — but the leader of a nation he is not. He is not a great man. Hell, he isn’t even a good man.

Donald Trump is a man of flawed character and a moral cavity. He cannot offer moral guidance because he has no moral compass. He is too small to see over his inflated ego.

.. Trump has personalized the presidency in unprecedented ways — making every battle and every war about his personal feelings. Did the person across the street or around the world say good or bad things about him? Does the media treat him fairly? Is someone in his coterie of corruption outshining him or casting negative light on him?

His interests center on the self; country be damned.

.. By claiming that there were some “very fine people” among the extremists marching in Charlottesville, the president made a profound declaration: The accommodation of racists is his creed.

.. According to The Chicago Tribune, one of Fields’s high school teachers said he once “wrote a three-page homework paper that extolled Nazi ideology and the prowess of the Führer’s armed forces,” and that even before then, the teacher said, “he had been well aware of Fields’s racist and anti-Semitic beliefs from private discussions he had with Fields during his junior year.”

.. “At least four times when the boy was in the eighth and ninth grades, Florence police were summoned to his home, mostly by his frantic mother, Samantha Bloom, an I.T. specialist. It was just the two of them living together, and young James, among other incidents, was reported to have spat in her face, smacked her head with a phone and frightened her with a foot-long knife, according to records of the 911 calls. Neighbors, in interviews, similarly described a troubled youth who treated his mother cruelly.”

.. He apparently felt that the media had unfairly condemned him for his original remarks and he was going to be the counterpuncher and strike back at the media. Again, it was all about him, not us.

.. He was not there to heal the nation or to uplift it. He was there for personal exoneration and redemption. He wasn’t there to plead the case that America could rise on the wings of its better angels. He was there to defend the demons.

.. Trump said that he had not initially condemned both sides because he wanted to wait to get all the facts, because that’s what he likes to do.

Lies.

On Saturday, when tens of thousands of protesters turned out to counter a small group of radical racists, Trump’s first response was to tweet: “Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.”

This man doesn’t wait for facts. This man doesn’t care about facts, or much else for that matter. He only cares about himself, his image and his positioning.

Comments:

.. I am among the 67% of Republicans who approve of Trump’s response to the mayhem in Charlottesville.

If, unlike Charles Blow, you watched the entire press conference, you would approve too. Trump said unreservedly that racists, white nationalists, Nazis, whatever you want to call these freaks should be condemned.

Taken out of context by this columnist and most of the news media is that President Trump said that there are good people who believe that these statutes should not be taken down. This is not a controversial statement. You may disagree with this view, but surely good people could take this view.

In the present Trump Derangement Syndrome suffered by this columnist and the major news media, any semblance of nuance, or even fully listening to the president’s words, is lost.

.. Saggio: Mr. Blow lets lay aside the emotion and look at the facts. GDP is up after years of nothingness under President Obama. Unemployment is down. Wages are up. For the first time a President of the United States has faced down North Korea and there is a slim hope for progress. We are beginning a realistic trade policy with China. And many foreign corporations are building new plants in America. Does any of this count with you?

 

.. Jack Sonville .. As a Jew, to me the most sickening characters in this plot line are the Jews in his cabinet–people like Cohn and Mnuchin. It is not enough to say, well, I know Donald Trump and he is personally not anti-Semetic. They are enablers and excuse-makers. They like being in power so much that they will broach any indignity and throw their heritage and people under the bus.

My question to them: After your time with Trump is done, where will you go to get back your dignity and self-respect?

 

.. zoe .. I watched the entire press conference. How many times did he say “fake news”? Are there people in this country that believe these statues should remain? Of course. Do you really think that they were marching with torches and armed with riot gear simply to protest the removal of a statue? What is more symbolic that marching with torches? It was very easy for the donald to state what some CEOs have since stated, what Arnold Schwarzenegger stated, what just about anyone on the street could have stated, at the beginning, as soon as we heard what had happened. He was waiting for the facts? Seriously? The donald never waits for facts. Whether you support him or not you know this is true. I watched the entire presser and someone with presidential temperament would have handled it differently. Nuance? He’s afraid of alienating his base. Do you believe him when during the campaign he said he knew nothing of the KKK or David Duke? There were no “fine people” marching alongside people caring Nazi flags and KKK ornamentation with guns at their side.

 

.. Bob israel .. I am sure that Charles Blow is not naive. When he excoriates President Trump for essentially telling the truth about the Charlottesville riots , that there were people with legitimate motives and also people with violent intent on both sides, which is now becoming clear, he is being disingenuous, at the very least.

Trump’s Fan-Service to His Base Is Tearing America Apart

The president doesn’t pretend to represent all citizens—just his most hardcore supporters.

.. Trump has carved out for himself a uniquely agonistic and tribalistic persona. He’s polarizing, and proud of it.

.. To win the presidency, you first need to win the support of a major political party, which means having a partisan identity. But once in power, the commander in chief is supposed to preside over the whole nation, not just those who voted for him.

.. But Trump has decided to forgo any attempt at conciliation. Instead, he’s run a bluntly partisan presidency, where his rhetoric is geared toward pleasing fanatical Fox News viewers more than creating a broad coalition. It’s a peculiarity of Trump’s behavior that he talks openly about his base, not even pretending to be the president of all Americans.

..  “The ugly truth is that white nationalists, the KKK, neo-Nazis and other bigots are indeed part of the Trump base,” columnist Brent Budowsky argued at The Hill. “Trump should throw these bigots out of his base. He should say he does not want their support. He should name names and name hate groups, loudly and repeatedly, and say he does not want their votes, their support, their praise and that he believes they are a stain on America.”

.. Rather than heeding such advice, Trump is moving in the opposite direction—and paying a political price for it.

..  As the president is increasingly criticized from outside his base, he’ll increasingly use his passionate fans as a political shield. And as Charlottesville proves, if those fans end up killing someone, the president will defend them. Caught in the closed loop of fan-servicing, Trump is setting the nation on a path toward further radicalization and further violence.

The Test of Nazism That Trump Failed

I spent years studying the testimonies of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and the recollections of their rescuers. When the rescuers were asked why they did what they did, they usually avoided the question. If they ventured a reply, it was simply to say that they did what anyone would have done. Historians who read sources develop intuitions about the material. The intuition I developed was that people who bragged about rescuing Jews had generally not done so; they were, in fact, more likely to be anti-Semites and racists. Rescuers almost never boast.

She memorably described a seemingly normal woman who was caught up in her daily cares but, when the moment arrived, ran headlong into a burning building to save children who were not her own.

“We know ourselves,” Ms. Szymborska wrote, “only insofar as we have been tested.”

.. Until we have been tested, there is no sense in boasting of our goodness; afterward, there is no need. After Charlottesville, President Trump faced an easy test, and failed. When presented with an obvious opportunity to condemn the evil that was and is Nazism, he first waited, then equivocated, then read from a teleprompter, then relativized. He spoke of “very fine people on both sides.”

.. The Nazi groups that marched in Charlottesville cannot be considered a “side.” When they carry torches, they imitate Nazi rituals. When they perform the call and response of “Trump! Hail” and “Victory! Hail!” they are translating Nazi performances that we know better in German: “Hitler! Heil!” and “Sieg! Heil!” In Charlottesville, American Nazis shouted “Sieg! Heil!” as they passed a synagogue.

.. When the supporters of the alt-right chant that “Jews will not replace us,” they recapitulate the Nazi idea of a world Jewry that stifles the master race and must therefore be removed from the planet. When they shout “Blood and soil,” they repeat a Nazi slogan signifying that races will murder races for land without mercy and forever.

.. These views do not define a “side,” but rather a worldview in which the United States of America, with its Constitution and laws, and with its hard-won daily understandings of rights and responsibilities, would no longer exist.

.. Hitler and his henchmen strategically defined themselves, from the outset, as a “side,” as the defenders of the system against the other “side,” the left. Hitler came to power denouncing Communism, which then (unlike now) was a force in the world. In power, Hitler assimilated all opponents to the other “side”

.. When Germany’s parliament, the Reichstag, burned, Hitler had already established in his rhetoric that the other “side” was violent, and he used the (false) claim that the other “side” had committed terrorism to bring the German republic to an end.

.. He has provided American Nazis with three services, for which they have thanked him:

  1. He has normalized their ideology;
  2. he has excused their actions; and
  3. he has given them hope that he will blame his opponents the next time America is struck by terrorism.

American Nazis dream of another Reichstag fire, a moment of terror in which the president will show his true colors and his opposition can be crushed.

.. The Confederate statues he admires are mostly artifacts of the early years of the 20th century, when Hitler admired the United States for its Jim Crow laws, when Mr. Trump’s father was arrested at a Klan rally, before America passed its test.

.. We are being tested, and so we will come to know ourselves.

Antifa and the Alt-Right, Growing in Opposition to One Another

There is a cancer in the body politic. We must cut it out, or be destroyed.

.. America has cancer. On Saturday, a crowd of alt-right white supremacists, neo-confederates, and Nazi sympathizers marched in Charlottesville, Va.; they were confronted by a large group of protesters including members of the Marxist Antifa — a group that has time and again plunged volatile situations into violence, from Sacramento to Berkeley. There’s still no certain knowledge of who began the violence, but before long, the sides had broken into the sort of brutal scrum that used to characterize Weimer-era Germany.

.. The president of the United States promptly failed egregiously to condemn alt-right racism; instead, he opted for a milquetoast statement condemning “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”

New York Times journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg for having the temerity to report that “the hard left seemed as hate-filled as the alt-right”; and suggesting that all conservatives were, at root, sympathizers with the Nazi-friendly alt-right.

.. On the one side, a racist, identity-politics Left dedicated to the proposition that white people are innate beneficiaries of privilege and therefore must be excised from political power; on the other side, a reactionary, racist, identity-politics alt-right dedicated to the proposition that white people are innate victims of the social-justice class and therefore must regain political power through race-group solidarity.

But both movements had been steadily shrinking until the last few years. Now they’re growing. And they’re largely growing in opposition to one another. In fact, the growth of each side reinforces the growth of the other: The mainstream Left, convinced that the enemies of social-justice warriors are all alt-right Nazis, winks and nods at left-wing violence; the right, convinced that its SJW enemies are focused on racial polarization, embraces the alt-right as a form of resistance. Antifa becomes merely a radical adjunct to traditional Democratic-party politics; the alt-right becomes merely a useful tool for scurrilous Republican politicians and media figures.

  1. President Obama allowed the politics of racial fragmentation to fester on his watch; he repeatedly trafficked in broad generalities about American racism. Obama focused incessantly on the specter of white bigotry: “the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives,” embedded in our collective DNA. In response, an identity politics began creepily infusing the Right, with some white people embracing the mold cast upon them by the Left, creating a soft racial solidarity in backlash. This, of course, only strengthened the Left’s views of white privilege, which in turn strengthened the Right’s views of white victimhood.
  2. Left-wing media — and “objective” media — saw an advantage in highlighting the antics of racists such as Richard Spencer and David Duke. Focusing on the racist alt-right allowed the media to draw the convenient conclusion that the alt-right was a growing force in Republican politics that had to be fought through support for Democrats. Meanwhile, the media cast a blind eye toward Antifa’s violent Weimer-style rioting in Sacramento and Berkeley… shills such as Milo Yiannopoulos. That rebranding provided a convenient way of fighting the Left: “If the Left is calling us alt-right, that’s just because they hate that we stand for Western civilization!”.. [Obama] made excuses for riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. He used the shooting of Dallas police officers by a radical black activist as an opportunity to lecture Americans about the evils of racist policing. He knew that his political support came in large measure from SJWs, and he cultivated them.

    .. Meanwhile, on the right, Trump did the same. During the campaign, he ignored opportunity after opportunity to break with the alt-right. He refused to condemn the KKK on national television; he refused to condemn his supporters’ sending anti-Semitic messages to journalists; he hired as his campaign strategist Steve Bannon, a man who openly celebrated turning Breitbart into a “platform for the alt-right.” Trump saw the alt-right as convenient allies

..The mainstream Left has been increasingly suckered into walking hand-in-hand with the SJWs while ignoring the most egregious activities of Antifa; the mainstream Right has been increasingly seduced into footsie with alt-right associates while feigning ignorance at the alt-right itself.

That’s why Charlottesville matters: not only because we saw destruction and terror, but because if all Americans of good conscience won’t do some soul-searching and move to excise the evil in their midst, that evil will metastasize. There is a cancer in the body politic. We must cut it out, or be destroyed.