We Cannot Say We Did Not Know (May 24, 2016)
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” (Source Unknown) and wearing a ball cap with the words “Make America Great Again.”
We cannot say we did not know.
Before, during, and after the rise of Hitler in Germany, there were those who said they “did not know” what was happening. For those not fully engulfed in the wave and fervor of nationalism, plausible deniability mixed with fear became the excuse of millions as Hitler’s power grew into a nearly unstoppable force of hatred, violence, and death.
Here in the United States, we did not take Hitler seriously until it was too late. Andrew Nagorski, author of the book Hitlerland, writes this about U.S. views of Hitler before he came to power, “…[Y]ou had Americans meeting Hitler and saying, ‘This guy is a clown. He’s like a caricature of himself.’ And a lot of them went through this whole litany about how even if Hitler got into a position of power, other German politicians would somehow be able to control him. A lot of German politicians believed this themselves.” Sound familiar? Nagorski goes on to write, “Of course, everyone began to reassess that very quickly after he took power. “ Some journalists, Nagorski notes, saw the threat early on and warned that Hitler was a genuine threat. Nagorski points to the example of how “Edgar Mowrer, the Chicago Daily News correspondent, kept frantically trying to warn readers and the world, ‘What he’s saying about the Jews is serious. Don’t underestimate him.’”
Over the next several months before our Presidential Election in the United States, it is the moral responsibility of all persons who see clearly what is happening with the rise of Trump to use every non-violent means at our disposal to make sure that it is not possible for people to say “we did not know.” Trump has given us more than enough signs during this campaign and during his life for us to know that he is dangerous to the United States and to the world. And here in the United States he is especially dangerous to Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, and women. Trump is also a threat to our ecological community. If you are someone planning to vote for Trump or a republican politician supporting Trump because you believe that he can be controlled once he is in office, please refer to history to see how difficult it is to control persons who come to power riding a wave of populist fascism.
Nothing is a greater warning about the danger of Trump than Trump’s own words. He may end up winning the presidency, but it cannot be because we ignore or forget during the general election what he said and did during the republican primaries. Below are some examples, but there are many more. These are Trump’s own words. We cannot say we did not know.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” – June 16, 2015
“Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a trouble-maker who was looking to make trouble.” – November 22, 2015 – commenting about an African American protester being kicked, punched, pushed, and shoved by Trump supporters at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama.
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” – December 2, 2015
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” – December 7, 2016
“I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” – February 6, 2016
“I read a story, it’s a terrible story, but I’ll tell you. Early in the century, last century, General Pershing — did you ever hear — rough guy, rough guy. And they had a terrorism problem. And there’s a whole thing with swine and animals and pigs — and you know the story. They don’t like that. They were having a tremendous problem with terrorism. Pershing caught 50 terrorists. He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pig’s blood. And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.” (There is no plausible evidence that this story is true) – February 19, 2016
“I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks… I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you that.” – February 22, 2016
From the March 3, 2016 republican debate:
BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than water boarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.
So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?
TRUMP: They won’t refuse, they’re not going to refuse me — believe me.”
In an interview with Chris Matthews, Trump said “There has to be some form of punishment.” when asked whether women who have abortions should be punished – March 30, 2016
In relation to the Paris Climate Agreement Trump said, “I will be looking at that very, very seriously, and at a minimum I will be renegotiating those agreements, at a minimum. And at a maximum I may do something else. But those agreements are one-sided agreements and they are bad for the United States.” – May 17, 2016
The American voters must not be allowed to say they did not know what was happening with the rise of Trump. It is the moral responsibility of us all to make it impossible for people to use this excuse to allow the most dangerous candidate ever nominated by a major political party to actually step into the Oval Office. This is especially the case for republican politicians who are supporting Trump for pragmatic reasons and think they can control him if he becomes President. In the haunting words of Edgar Mowrer, “Do not underestimate him.” We cannot say we did not know.
It is Happening Here (September 20, 2016)
I used to teach a course called Contemporary Political Theory in which I had students study Wilson, Lenin, Hitler, and Mao. We also read Jacques Ellul’s seminal work on propaganda. I mention this simply to say that I have actually studied the rise of Hitler fairly closely, I have read Mein Kampf four times, and I have looked closely at the propaganda Hitler used both before and after coming to power.
In my entire adult life, I have never compared an American politician to Hitler, with only one exception – Donald Trump. The megalomania, the scapegoating, the acceptance and encouragement of violence, the xenophobia, the racism, the authoritarianism, the harking back to some golden age of the Republic that only he can restore, the simplistic economic remedies, the manipulation of fear and hate, the casual use of the threats of military force, the use of religion to divide people, the methods of propaganda that make his followers see him as the only one who can make all things seem right again are all classic indicators of a person who is working to create a fascist state under authoritarian rule.
This is deadly serious. People and the planet will suffer greatly under Trump’s authoritarian rule. Our systems of democracy and checks and balances are not as robust as we think they are. With a Congress afraid to stand up against a president who has come to power on a wave of fascist populism, with courts stacked with Trump appointees, with a police force whose national union has already shown its support for Trump, and with the force of the military under his command, it is naive to think that Trump will be controlled.
This is a a warning, a warning from someone who has actually studied and taught about the rise of Hitler – it can happen here, it is happening here; and at this point Clinton and the people who vote for her are the only ones who can stop Trump from becoming President of the United States of America. Clinton is a lot of problematic things, but she is not a potential Hitler. Trump is. Progressives who are not voting for Clinton and who are working to keep people from voting for Clinton are aiding in the rise of Trump, whether they know it or not or admit it or not. I plead with you to look carefully at the reality of our situation. In January, our president will be Trump or Clinton. Anything we do to enable Trump to win will lead us into an era of real consequences for real people and all of life.
For Such a Time as This (November 17, 2016)
A horrible human being who promised to do horrible things has been elected president. He is now surrounding himself with horrible human beings in his administration who are talking about how it is that they will do the horrible things the president elect has promised to do. Our most vulnerable neighbors are living in fear, and the rest of the world sees clearly that we have elected a fascist government. A darkness covers the land. All good and compassionate persons will have to fight for the light of love and justice to survive this expression of sickness of the American soul.
Stand together. Register as a Muslim when they come for our Muslim neighbors. Provide sanctuary for our Latinx sisters and brothers when they come for them. Walk hand in hand with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers when their rights and safety are threatened. Proudly shout that Black Lives Matter to the ends of the earth. Demand respect and equality for all women. When they mock persons with disabilities, lift them up. Stand with our indigenous sisters and brothers to defend their sacred lands.When they ravage the earth, block them with our bodies.
Make no mistake, this incoming administration is planning great harm to our most vulnerable neighbors and will do irreparable damage to the inclusive spirit of our nation if we do not stand together and resist them relentlessly. It is for such a time as this that we are called to reach into our inner strength and courage to walk through this deep valley of injustice together and climb back up towards Beloved Community.
Not acting for justice is acting for injustice. Not standing with the oppressed is standing with the oppressor. Silence is consent.
To be a fascist, or not to be a fascist (February 24, 2017)
For decades in the United States we have experienced a kind of national political neurosis in which millions of people have continued to vote against their own interests based on their perception of how the Republican Party was protecting their religious and cultural values. This did not just happen. It was the result of an extremely well-funded and well-organized strategy that focused on reshaping government, the media, higher education, public education, religious institutions, and the courts to be more supportive of corporate interests.
Now we have seen our country enter into a state of national political psychosis that is rightly called fascism – with all of the fascist trimmings of authoritarianism, nationalism, racial and religious scapegoating, attacking the free press, and xenophobia.
In a democratic country of our size, it takes tens of million of people who either knowingly vote for or who are duped into voting for a fascist for fascism to come into being. As our current president continues to govern on the fascist principles upon which he campaigned, the millions of people who may have knowingly voted for this are extremely pleased, and the millions of supporters who may have been duped no longer can use the excuse that they do not know what is happening now that “this” is actually happening.
In other words, if you keep on supporting a fascist even after he makes his fascism explicit, not only in word but also in deed, then you might very well be and probably are a fascist, and history eventually will not look kindly on you. Your continued support of a fascist will contribute to horrific suffering of both people and the planet. This will be something that your children and grandchildren will eventually want to forget about you, and for those who become even more complicit in this evil by acting out the worst of what this president wants to achieve, your children and grandchildren may not want to remember you at all.
Many of you who for some reason are still supporting this fascist president are not bad or evil people, but the longer you hold on to your support for him, the more difficult it is to describe you in that way. He is making it crystal clear who he is and what he will do as long as he is in power, and at some point you become a part of the evil, not just an innocent bystander. Everyone who is paying attention now has a clear choice: to be a fascist, or not to be fascist.
Oh, and if you think that you cannot be a fascist because so many of your Christian friends support this president, and you think that it is not possible that so many Christians would support a fascist, I direct your attention to the image below. The fascist they are hailing did well with the “Christian” vote too.
Fascist leaders cannot accomplish want they want to do alone. They need true believer propagandists like Bannon and Miller. They need those who will simply do what they say like Priebus, Conway, and Spicer. They need opportunists like Pence, Ryan, McConnell, and Chaffetz who think they or their agenda can benefit from the situation. They need the backing of powerful corporations and industry who see an opportunity for profit. They need millions of people who will believe their alternative facts and be willing to act to defend them, millions of persons who are too scared to resist, courts that will rubber stamp their directives, a press that will acquiesce to authoritarianism, and millions of persons who just don’t care enough to resist.
Our fascist president has almost all of these things going for him. It is up to the courts, the press, and the millions of people who do care enough to resist and stop him. The longer he is in power, the more he will weaken the free press and the courts, and it will be very difficult for the people to stop this fall into the fascist abyss.
Not Here by Accident (June 24, 2017)
We didn’t just get here by accident. By “here,” I mean:
• a situation in which all three branches of the federal government are controlled by the large corporate interests represented by the Republican Party
• a situation in which income inequality is greater than at any other time since before the Great Depression
• a situation in which almost unlimited amounts of money can be used (often anonymously) to sway political processes
• a situation in which our tax structure becomes evermore regressive and harmful to the poor and middle class
• a situation in which laws are passed to make it more difficult to vote and in which some states are so gerrymandered that many seats in legislatures are practically permanently held by one party, while the politicians holding those seats often run unopposed
• a situation in which unions have been decimated and the minimum wage is falling
• a situation in which deregulation of financial institutions and industry in general has more momentum than protection of the environment, public health, and safety
• a situation in which public schools are chronically underfunded, undervalued, and under siege by private corporate interests
• a situation in which public institutions of higher education have gone from being almost fully publicly funded, to partially publicly funded, to barely publicly funded and thus more dependent on funding from the persons and powers that benefit from the established environment
• a situation in which court appointments are blocked for political purposes with almost no negative political consequences
• a situation in which insurance companies and healthcare providers are enriched by our healthcare system, while patients and their families are impoverished
• a situation in which a greater percentage or our population is in prison than any other country in the world, with vast disparities in the incarceration rates for people of color as compared to those who are white
• a situation in which women are underpaid and in which women’s healthcare is under-supported
• a situation in which we treat drug use as a crime to be punished as opposed to a problem for both persons and communities that requires access to affordable and compassionate treatment
• a situation in which a handful of corporations own most of the major media outlets and in which news is more often propaganda than not
• a situation in which our religions, our race, and our places of birth are used to divide us (for the people and powers who benefit from the established environment know what will happen if we are not divided)
• and a situation in which we are the only country in the world rejecting the global consensus of climate scientists that climate change is real and caused primarily by human activity.
No, we did not simply get here by accident. Our situation, our current established environment, is the result of planning, strategy, organization, and massive amounts of funding. It is the result of a major and well coordinated project of systemic transformation implemented by some of the most wealthy and powerful persons and corporations in our country and the world. Until we come to grips with the fact that we didn’t just get here by accident, we will likely never be able to recognize what it will take to move us from “here” to a future in which a more flourishing community is possible.
Moving from “here” to that more flourishing future will be one of the most difficult and challenging things we will ever do as a society, but it also has the potential to be the most life-giving, joyful, and world saving work that humanity has ever witnessed. One thing is sure – without this work for systemic transformation, the “here” we are now experiencing will only get worse. Our challenge, our mission, is to figure out how we are going to get from the “here” of our current established environment to the “there” of a more just, peaceful, participatory future. The good news is that the systemic change required to get there is possible.
Declaring Independence from Religious Nationalism (July 3, 2017)
As I spend Independence Day weekend in New York City, I have been reminded of the tremendous diversity of our nation in what may well be the most diverse and international city in the world. I am reminded especially of our religious diversity as I walk down the streets of Manhattan and see persons from so many of the world’s religions and persons who see themselves as being part of no religion at all.
Being in New York reminds me of the millions of persons who immigrated to America, many of whom came to Ellis Island just miles from where I am writing this, and many of whom came to escape various forms of religious oppression. In spite of this history, I have a deep concern that we as a country are on the brink of creating an American era of religious oppression if we continue down the path that our president wants to lead us in relation to our Muslim sisters and brothers, and if we continue to increase the fervor of religious nationalism that Trump has cultivated so effectively in his rise to power.
Religious nationalism is neither good for religion nor good for the nation. There is nothing more toxic to human rights and social justice than the combination of religion and nationalism. When religion and nation see each other as instruments for their survival or expansion, true freedom is in peril.
Religious nationalism is an affront to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves and a barrier to building the Beloved Community. Religious nationalism is also an affront to the ideal of equal protection of all people under the law. A nation that turns its laws against people based on their orientation to religion is no longer a nation of laws, for it is no longer basing its laws on justice and the equal dignity of all persons. As Saint Augustine and Martin Luther King Jr. have reminded us, an unjust law is no law at all.
Loving God and country is great, but if you think people must believe in God the way you do to be in our country, that’s not great, it’s just oppressive. The legacy of religious nationalism is oppression, violence, executions, wars, crusades, inquisitions, colonialism, racism, slavery, pogroms, and genocide. Do not forget this as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Donald J. Trump continue to lead the growing chorus of American religious nationalism.
As we observe the Fourth of July, may we turn away from religious nationalism and turn towards the vision of a country that strives to uphold the free exercise of religion for all people and the freedom of persons who identify with no religion as well.
Patriotism is loyalty to the highest ideals and values of our country, not loyalty to a president who upholds neither and who uses a toxic combination of religion and nationalism to manipulate large numbers of people to gain, maintain, and expand his power. Freedom from religious nationalism is a central ingredient of our country’s identity and one of the many reasons so many have been drawn to the flame of liberty that has the potential to make our country as great as we hope it can be.
In Times Like These… (July 8, 2017)
In times like these, we have to help one another.
If you are like me, you are depressed that we live in a country that could elect someone like our current president. You knew the United States was deeply flawed, but you didn’t think it was so deeply soul sick as to elect someone who is so horrible in so many ways to be President of the United States.
If you are like me, you see how greed, cowardice, and lust for power have so weakened the systems that should be a check on someone like our current president. You see the reality that the Republicans will likely do nothing to bring this national nightmare to an end and will do almost anything to prolong it as long as it is in their self-interest to do so.
If you are like me, you see expressions of racism, religious nationalism, sexism, xenophobia, and antagonism towards persons who are LGBTQ and Muslim that you thought you would never see at this level at this time in our national experience.
It is easy to be so overwhelmed by all this and to simply want to give up; maybe just tend to our gardens and take care of our friends and family and avoid the toxicity of the established environment. Yes, gardening and taking care of our friends and family should be part of our response. It is part of resistance to the current established environment. But we must also find a way of taking care of each other on a larger scale and in the larger community of our society.
Freedom and justice have never been won easily or without a struggle in the history of humankind. Perhaps we thought that our big national struggles on these fronts were in the past, but they are not. They are here right now. Now is our time to take care of each other so we can join in this struggle together.
It is natural to be down. It is natural to want to give up. But people and the planet are counting on us to pick up the mantle and join the ongoing and urgent struggle for freedom and justice in times like these.
In times like these, we have to help one another.
From Fundamentalism to Fascism (November 11, 2017)
RELIGION POSSESSES IMMENSE POWER TO RENEW THE HUMAN SPIRIT OR TO IMPRISON IT.
I was a fundamentalist Christian from about age 14 to age 19. The church was my most important community of my teenage years, and the people there made me feel welcomed, loved, and important. Though I do remember an appeal to feelings of guilt sometimes being used in ways that when I look back now seems coercive, the Christian fundamentalism of my teenage years did not seem to be mean-spirited or hateful. The people in my religious community were kind persons, and I believe they wanted the very best for me and each other. I loved them, and I still do. Although I believe much differently than most of them probably do today, I am still thankful for them and for the love in community I experienced with them.
The fundamentalist beliefs of the religious community of my teens seemed to be held sincerely, and the members of the community expressed genuine concern for the salvation of others who were not Christian. This concern for the salvation of others is understandable given the fear and belief that non-Christians were lost and would be lost eternally without Christ. It was within this fundamentalist context and while sharing these beliefs of concern for the salvation of others that I experienced a sense of calling at the age of 16 to become a minister, and I am United Methodist minister to this day.
During my college years, experiences of the closed doors of judgmental attitudes of this fundamentalist perspective, heart-opening friendships with persons of other religions and with persons of no religion, and the mind-opening experience of a liberal arts education turned me away from fundamentalism to a more ecumenical, open, non-judgmental, and inclusive view of my Christian faith. I still cherished the love and community that I experienced in the church of my teenage years, but I no longer believed that love and community needed to be coupled with exclusion and judgment – especially the exclusion and judgment of LGBTQ+ persons and persons who might have another orientation to religion than Christianity
At age 51, I have been ecumenical and progressive for many more years than the fundamentalism of my youth. The transition was not easy, and I know that it may have been disturbing to many who probably sincerely fear for my soul or who think that I lost my faith, but I am happy for the transformation I experienced. I truly believe it has helped me become more of the person I hope to be in the world, but I still love the people of my home church who loved me and still do, though their love may now be mixed with what I imagine is genuine concern.
My experience of religious fundamentalism as a youth and my love for the persons who were a part of that community have made it even more difficult to watch how persons from a fundamentalist perspective are being manipulated by political and economic forces that have very little to do with the way of Jesus in this world. Large factions within the Republican Party have used and manipulated the sincerity and the passion of fundamentalist Christians to get them to do things I don’t think I ever dreamed I would see them doing.
I never thought I would see the day when Christian fundamentalists would support a president who brags about sexual assault, who lies relentlessly, and who surrounds himself with people from organized crime. I never thought I would see the day when fundamentalist Christians would be chanting “build the wall,” rejecting refugees, and supporting Muslim bans. I never thought I would see the day when Christian fundamentalists would become one of the strongest forces against environmental protections and regulations for our health and safety. I never thought I would see the day when fundamentalist Christians would use scriptures to defend people who have been accused of child molestation. And, I hoped that Christian fundamentalists would not continue to harden their hearts and harm people through their anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and practices.
Christian fundamentalist extremism is being used by people like Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., and many others to tear apart the very social fabric of our country in an attempt to create some kind of theocratic Christian state; and it seems this movement will justify almost anything to pursue its causes. In its embrace of authoritarianism, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and practices; it resembles something more and more like a fascist movement than a religion of love and justice. If this is left unchecked, we will experience continued and increasing violence and injustice, much of which will be done in the name of religion.
Our current situation is tragic on many levels, but one of the saddest things for me is that in the name of Christianity, fundamentalist extremism is taking people farther and farther from the loving and just ways of Jesus in this world and is dividing us through fear and hate rather than uniting us in Beloved Community. Religion is being used to imprison and manipulate rather than renew the human spirit to care for people and the planet, and I believe that would make Jesus weep.
A Period of Consequences (November 20, 2018)
History shows that if you give fascists an inch, they will take a mile, and they never play by the agreed upon rules of justice and decency that we often naively think will protect us from them. We cannot cajole, cater to, covertly control, or compromise with fascists. We cannot quietly influence them from positions in Congress, through the courts, in the president’s cabinet, or even on the golf course or in the country club. Appeasement of fascists is not an option. Resistance is the only remedy. Removing fascists from power is the fiercely urgent priority of now.
Our current president and many around him have given the green light to fascists around the world in Poland, Hungary, Italy, and Brazil; and they have given aid and comfort to other nationalist authoritarian regimes throughout the world such as North Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Russia. Other countries such as Austria, France, and the UK have seen fascist elements gain significant numbers and influence since the rise of Trumpism. Even Germany is experiencing a fanning of the flames of fascism they have not witnessed since the end of Nazism.
To stop this global rise in fascism and other forms of authoritarian nationalism we are seeing around the world, we must first end its hold on power here in the United States and become a positive force for democracy, diversity, justice, and global cooperation. If we do not end fascism here and very soon, it will lead us where authoritarian nationalism and fascism always take us – unspeakable suffering, horrific violence, and millions upon millions of deaths.
If you do not think this can happen, you have failed to learn the lessons of very recent history. If you think fascism can be confined to simply “making America great again” without including all of the evil inherent to fascism, you have not looked long enough into its dark soul to see the killing fields and death chambers to which it beckons those who think they are expressing patriotism but who soon find themselves doing unspeakable evil for the cause and cult of country.
The evil begins with attacks on the freedom of the press and an assault on truth itself; with vilification of persons who are seen as “other,” be they of different race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity; and with a call to put the interests of our country first to the point of being in conflict with the well being of the world. Then it progresses to the rejection of refugees, deportations, the building of walls, the building of detention camps, and the separation of families – even the separation of parents from their children. But it will not end there. Fascism never ends there.
Step by step fascism will desensitize its followers into not seeing their actions as evil but as necessary, even as heroic, for the good of the “People.” Step by step it will intimidate those persons who might speak up or act out against it, with intimidation quickly giving way to violent oppression. Step by step it will come to dominate the systems of law and justice that its opponents once thought would protect them, but which become the very systems that routinize the evils that eventually lead where fascism always leads us – to the ways of death and even to the ways worse than death.
As Winston Churchill warned us not too long ago, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
Overcoming 21st Century Fascism (November 23, 2018)
A global rise in fascism and other forms of nationalistic authoritarianism is a rather predictable phenomenon in a world moving towards ecological and economic collapse caused by an extractivist capitalism that is unsustainable for both people and the planet. As the world economy becomes more and more unstable and as our natural environment and the climate become more and more hostile to a flourishing human civilization, leading to increasing conflict from climate change induced scarcity; it becomes easier to move people with the propaganda of fear and even hate. The desire among many for “strong” authoritarian leaders who will protect them and provide quick and simple solutions to their problems and fears grows stronger as they long for a greatness that they perceived has been lost in a world that feels more and more uncertain, unsafe, and chaotic.
The compelling message of fascism in times like ours is that it creates simple explanations of the challenges we face that build on inherent racism and prejudices in society while providing simple (though most often extremely evil) solutions to those challenges. Fascism promises to protect the “people” from the “other.” It is always the “other” – other religions, other races, other ways of thinking, that are responsible for what is wrong. If the “people” just ban together and control or eradicate the other, then the problems will dissipate they are told. The “other” is responsible for our economic problems, for taking our jobs, for our crime and violence they are told. It is all based on a lie, a big lie, yet is a rather simple lie, a lie that a large number of people are ready and willing to believe.
We have seen the effectiveness of the big lie of fascism before in the 30s and 40s of the 20th Century. In a time of deep economic insecurity, in a country of deep racism and antisemitism that had been decimated by World War I, Hitler used the German “people’s” longing for a lost greatness to get them to believe his big lie that he could fix Germany by getting the people working again and by solving the “Jewish Problem.” The Jews are not good people he told the German people; they are not really Germans he told them; they are the cause of our problems he told them; if we eradicate the Jews, it will make Germany great again he told them; and the white Christian Germans followed Hitler down the path of ever increasing evil towards the Jewish people and others – suppression of the press, forced public identification and tracking of persecuted groups, restricted areas of living and movement, forced deportation, detention camps, concentration camps, slave labor, starvation, torture, firing squads, gas chambers.
As Hannah Arendt, the 20th Century philosopher and historian of totalitarianism, writes, “It was the nature of the Nazi movement that it kept moving, becoming more radical with each passing month, but one of the outstanding characteristics of its members was that psychologically they tended to be always one step behind the movement – that they had the greatest difficulty in keeping up with it, or, as Hitler used to phrase it, they they could not ‘jump over their own shadow’ ” (Eichmann in Jerusalem, p. 63). Whether its followers were a step behind or not, we all know that the Nazi movement quickly led them to some of the worst expressions of evil ever experienced in the history of humankind; and this expression of fascism was only defeated through a second World War and at the cost of millions of lives.
The current form of fascism being led and encouraged by the President of the United States and being emboldened globally by the president and his supporters has already moved into the stages of attacking the press, scapegoating other ethnic groups and persons of other religions, implementing travel bans, increasing forced deportations, creating detention camps, the emboldening of fascist organizations and activities, attacking the rights and equality of persons who are LGBTQIA, increasing violence against Muslims and Jews, and even the separating of children from their parents at our borders. The current fascist movement in the United States and around the world is becoming more radical with each passing month, and perhaps the typical MAGA devotees are still psychologically one step behind the movement, unable to jump over the shadow of their MAGA caps, but the movement keeps progressing to more radical and dangerous levels nonetheless.
We know from history that the only way fascism was defeated in the last century was through a horrific World War, It is difficult to know when or how fascism of the 20th Century could have been stopped before it gained its grip on power and made war inevitable. What we do know is that no other compelling vision or political strategy was able to convince or empower the German people and the people of Germany’s fascist allies to reject and overcome fascism internally before it was too late.
This is the great challenge we face today – how do we overcome fascism internally before it becomes too late to do so peacefully and through constitutionally prescribed political processes? How do we create effective political strategies and a compelling vision of a new way to be as a people that will address the economic uncertainties and ecological challenges that are leading so many people to listen to the message of fear and hate rather than the message of hope and love?
One thing is certain, we will not be able to fight fascism by simply doubling down on an adherence to economic and political systems that are leading the world to both economic and ecological collapse. Capitalism may have been effective at creating tremendous wealth and economic growth, but it has done so in a way that has treated non-human life, our ecological community, and often people themselves merely as commodities while ignoring the limits of the carrying capacity of the planet. Whatever benefits of economic growth capitalism has created are greatly overshadowed by the sixth great extinction and climate chaos it is unleashing on our world.
If the political answer to the rise of global fascism is simply more of the same extractivist and unsustainable capitalism, things are only going to get worse… a lot worse, and more and more people will be drawn to more extreme and often evil solutions to our problems. If we cannot figure out how to live within our planetary means and maintain a livable climate, the evils of the 20th Century might end up being eclipsed by the evils of the 21st.
One Step Behind (December 12, 2018)
The following words from Hannah Arendt have been haunting me as we continue to see the rise of authoritarian and xenophobic nationalism in the United States, Europe, and even in Brazil:
“It was the nature of the Nazi movement that it kept moving, becoming more radical with each passing month, but one of the outstanding characteristics of its members was that psychologically they tended to be always one step behind the movement – that they had the greatest difficulty in keeping up with it, or, as Hitler used to phrase it, they they could not ‘jump over their own shadow’” (Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, p. 63).
At each step in the current movement towards more extreme expressions of fascism, most of its followers seem oblivious to where this will lead. Granted some are not oblivious at all, but the fascist movement needs millions who are rather oblivious to its implications to follow it (or at least remain apathetic) just long enough for it to take a hold that can not easily be broken.
In the last two years, we have seen the global fascist drumbeat become louder and louder against Muslims, against refugees and immigrants, against persons who are LGBTQIA, against people of color, against the environmentalists, against the free press, and against “the globalists.” And we have seen ever increasing radicalism in actions taken against these groups: more deportations, travel bans, parent/child separations, attempts to criminalize protests, detention camps veiled in secrecy and described by the children there as “hell,” and journalists being killed without repercussions.
Even if the followers are one step behind this global fascist movement and don’t fully realize where it is headed, it has already gone far enough that they are morally culpable for the evil consequences that can be seen all around us if we but open our eyes. But in the big picture, the issue of moral culpability is not the most important one for those who are already suffering; the truly urgent question for all who want a Beloved Community as opposed to a fascist one is: “How do we stop this fascist movement before it is too late?”
Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and Stephen Miller were the three most influential white nationalist figures in Trump’s campaign and early administration. These three persons are not the followers about whom Arendt was writing. These three are not one step behind the fascist movement. They are its leaders.
Bannon and Gorka were too public with their extremism to be effective inside the White House, so they have moved on to continue promoting authoritarian and xenophobic right wing nationalism around the world through other avenues of influence, especially in Europe.
Stephen Miller is the lone member of this fascist trifecta who remains in the White House. We don’t see him much publicly because he comes across as too extreme for public consumption, but Miller’s influence on Trump is great, and Miller brings the language and policies of the global fascist movement strongly into the actions and words of our current president. Miller is a significant force behind the rejection of immigrants and refugees, the travel ban, and the pro-nationalist and ant-globalist alt right rhetoric of Trump’s speeches, public pronouncements, and policy decisions. Miller is a true believer.
In the last few months, Trump and his nationalist followers have been increasingly emphasizing a “nationalist vs. globalist” dichotomy, which has been a hallmark of fascist rhetoric; and they have stepped up their efforts to destabilize pro-EU and pro-NATO governments in Europe. These efforts are also supported by Vladimir Putin. Regardless of whether or not Trump is removed from office, the alt-right/fascist agenda of Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka to move the needle towards nationalism in Europe and around the globe has gained considerable and extremely dangerous momentum, and Putin is very pleased by the disruption this has wrought in the European Union and NATO Alliance.
It is an open question whether the forces for human rights, democracy, and care for the environment will have the courage and creativity to bring the momentum of global fascism to a halt before its power is too great. How will we stay one step ahead of the forces of fascism? If we don’t find a way to answer this question, we may see a repetition of unspeakable evil and suffering.
Normal and Patriotic People (December 14, 2018)
The vast majority of Germans who supported Nazism considered themselves to be very normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who supported the genocide of indigenous peoples considered themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who supported slavery considered themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who supported the segregation and oppression of Jim Crow considered themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who supported the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II considered themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who support travel bans and other restrictions on persons who are Muslim consider themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who support rejecting refugees and asylum seekers consider themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who support separating children from their parents at our borders and putting them in detention camps consider themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who are against taking action to address climate change and other urgent ecological challenges consider themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
Many of the great evils in our history and our present are made possible not by persons who see themselves as being evil, but by the actions or inaction of persons who feel they are very normal and patriotic and who often also see themselves as good Christians.
Many of the greatest perpetrators of evil in our past and present count on people who see themselves as normal and patriotic people who often consider themselves to be good Christians for support.
The longer the great perpetrators of evil can convince their supporters that they are normal and patriotic people and even good Christians, the longer they can perpetrate evil.
The great perpetrators of evil in the past and present are often masters of making their evil seem normal and patriotic and “Christian” or whatever the religion of the majority might be. This is what Hannah Arendt was getting at when she described the “banality of evil.” Much of the mechanics of evil in the world are not made possible by blatantly evil monsters but rather by ordinary and seemingly very normal people.
This is why persons who have considered themselves normal and patriotic people and good Christians have often been accomplices to some of the most horrific evils ever experienced in human history.
We are, however, not without hope, for many normal and patriotic people, both Christian and those who orient themselves to religion differently, are also capable of seeing that there is nothing normal, patriotic, or “Christian” about these evils.
The time is now for these normal, patriotic, and good people to take a stand and not let the evils of our past continue to be evils of our present and future. There is not a hero out there upon which we can depend to stop this. We must become heroes of goodness justice for each other.
State of Emergency (February 17, 2019)
Two things are clearly of great concern to our current president at the moment – low approval ratings and expanding investigations. Over the next year, Trump will become increasingly desperate to increase his ratings and stop the investigations, and he will need some sort of national crisis in order to accomplish both.
Trump’s manufactured “border crisis” is an attempt to create an excuse to declare a national state of emergency in order to shore up his base, expand his powers, and call for an end to the multiple investigations that are currently being conducted. Thus far, his attempt at making the case that we are experiencing a border crisis has been unconvincing to all but his unwavering base, but whether it be a “national emergency” of a “border crisis,” a war with Venezuela, or some unforeseen terrorism event; Trump has been intently looking for a way to expand his power in response to a threat whether real, manufactured, or completely fake.
When Trump makes his expansion of presidential powers move, we will need to do more than simply tweet our opposition. This would be a moment that would require relentless and massive opposition, for if Trump is allowed to get away with declaring a national state of emergency, we will likely be under such a state of emergency with expanded presidential powers until the end of his presidency.
The use of national emergencies is one of the most tried and true methods used by authoritarian leaders to gain, maintain, and expand power. Once given such expanded powers, authoritarian leaders do everything they can to keep them. They do not simply give the powers back, and they usually figure out ways to take more and more.
If you think our country simply will not allow any president to take such expanded powers, think again. We have already allowed him to ban persons’ travel based on religious discrimination, separate refugee children from their parents and put them in detention centers, shut down our government for the longest period of time in history putting families in financial distress, and meet alone with President Putin twice without any American senior officials present. Trump keeps crossing what should be red lines with virtually no consequences. We have given him very little reason not to continue doing so.
Tyranny and fascism can happen here, and it will likely happen here, unless we stop it; and when Trump declares a national emergency to expand his powers, it may be the one of the last opportunities, if not the last opportunity, we will have to stop it.
Fossil Fueled Fascism (March 18, 2019)
There are at least four things about which our current president is quite consistent:
1. He is anti-immigrant and anti-refugee in relation to non-white immigrants.
2. He is anti-Islam, except in the case of Saudi Arabia and its allies.
3. He supports Christian Fundamentalism.
4. He supports the fossil fuel industry.
These four things contribute to Trump’s deep and abiding support among racists, xenophobes, white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and the petrochemical industry; and it is their interconnected interests that have brought Trump to power and which are working to keep him in power.
Racists, xenophobes, white supremacists, and Christian fundamentalists support Trump primarily for ideological reasons; but the industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and the petrochemical industry (all of which depend heavily on fossil fuel) support Trump primarily for financial reasons. Trump’s ideological base and the fossil fuel industry are mutually supportive of each other and mutually dependent on one another. The need each other to maintain power, and they know it. Trump knows it too.
Racists, xenophobes, and white supremacists tend to subordinate any concerns they might have for the environment to their more immediate concern of making America white again, so climate change is easily discarded as a concern of the opposing “globalist” team. From their nationalist perspective, they are easily convinced that increased fossil fuel development for the sake of energy independence is in both the national and nationalist interest.
Christian fundamentalists, few of whom are explicitly racist, xenophobic, or white supremacists, are nonetheless willing to overlook Trump’s popularity among these groups because Trump is supporting their most important agenda items of ending access to legal abortions and protecting what they understand to be their religious freedom – even if that freedom calls for discrimination of other persons in the public sphere. As long as Trump continues to appoint judges who will support their agenda, they will never stop supporting Trump, and given that a very large percentage of them literally believe the world will end in their lifetime, climate change is of little concern to them. They are much more focused on uncritical support for Israel (another point Trump knows how to work) less out of concern for the Jewish people who are living in Israel than as a means to bring about the Second Coming (yes, they really are working for this). This is why Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Ideological support for Trump is crucial to his success, but without the financial and organizational support of the fossil fuel related industries; Trump would likely not have come to power. Trump has rewarded these industries mightily with a massive rollback of environmental regulations and a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump’s problematic ties to Russia are not a problem at all to the fossil fuel industry as there are hundreds of billions of dollars to be made on drilling agreements with Russia. This is likely why Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, was appointed as Secretary of State. To Tillerson’s credit, he could not bring himself to continue working under Trump, but his initial appointment was a testament to how closely the fossil fuel industry is connected with this president.
Most fossil fuel executives are likely not racist, xenophobic, or white supremacists; and they are probably no more likely to be Christian fundamentalists than any other segment of society. Most fossil fuel executives probably don’t see themselves as being pro-Putin or even pro-Russia, but their desire to cash in on the trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuel yet to be exploited has led them into a mutually reinforcing and mutually beneficial relationship with Trump’s ideological base. The relationship is becoming stronger and more inextricable to the point that, whether consciously or not, the fossil fuel industry is supporting dangerous right-wing nationalist ideologies around the world. The existential danger we are currently facing is that this collaboration of convenience to further ideological and financial interests seems to be leading us down a pernicious path to fossil fueled fascism with dire consequences for people and the planet.
The Climate Crisis and Nationalism (January 1, 2020)
Climate change and the ecological and economic damage it inflicts creates a vicious cycle that if left unchecked will spiral humanity into climate chaos, endless wars, and the demise of human civilization as we know it.
As humanity experiences the ever-growing negative effects of climate change; some communities and some regions are affected more detrimentally than others; creating a lack of access to food, water, other vital necessities, and in some cases even the loss of habitable land. This inevitably creates conflicts among nations and within nations. It is not surprising that these conflicts often break out along racial, religious, and national divisions where tensions have often existed for years, decades, and in some cases centuries.
As access to vital necessities and viable livelihoods diminish, people tend to group themselves along traditional lines of race, religion, or nation to deal with the perceived threat of the other in the competition for a viable existence. It is no wonder that in such a climate we would see a resurgence of race-based and religiously-based nationalism. In the United States we see this resurgence in the widespread rejection of refugees, the building of walls, anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic attitudes and actions, America First rhetoric and policies, and the dismantling of agreements for international cooperation. This rise in nationalism is not only happening here; it is a global phenomenon.
We find ourselves in a time in which international cooperation to address our social and ecological challenges is needed more than ever before, yet the networks and channels for such cooperation are breaking down under nationalistic pressures and tensions. In such a context, short term economic advantage trumps concerns for long term ecological sustainability, the commodification of nature is accelerated, and oligarchal greed for profit and power runs rampant in the midst of a vacuum left by a lack of cooperative global economic and political structures and regulations.
What we are seeing is that the climate crisis and race-based and religiously-based nationalism are mutually reinforcing phenomena. Both must be overcome simultaneously for humanity to have a chance at survival.
The second decade of the 21st Century will be remembered primarily for two things: 1) pathetic inaction to address the climate crisis and 2) the resurgence of race-based and religiously-based forms of nationalism around the world. Both phenomena pose an existential threat for people and the planet. The third decade of the 21st Century must address and overcome these two threats if humanity is to have hope for preserving a livable climate for human civilization and creating a just future for all persons in a pluralistic society.
The past decade was the warmest decade on record, approaching a full degree Celsius above pre-industrial global temperatures. Democracy is waning globally and more and more countries are being led by authoritarians, many with nationalist leanings. Climate scientists are warning that we have ten years within which to take the action required to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is the decade, we are the people. We will either be remembered as the greatest generation or the one that let it all burn down.
Unite or Lose the Republic (February 3, 2020)
It pains me greatly to say this, but it is very likely that unless we see the greatest political mobilization in U.S. history, Trump will win the United States Presidency again this year. The Republican Party is his party now, and there will be no accountability between now and the election when Trump attempts to lie and cheat his way to a second term.
The support of Trump’s base has hardened to such an extent that their enthusiasm will be extremely high. Republican presidents have often given lip service to the desires of the party’s nationalist and theocratic base, but President Trump has actually done what previous Republican presidents only talked about – rejecting immigrants and refugees even to the point of actively separating thousands of children from their families, scapegoating Muslims and discriminating against them in practice and policy, favoring Christianity over other religious expressions, and moving systematically towards the banning of all abortions no matter what the reason.
When the Democratic primaries are over, those who understand the threat that Trump poses must come together like never before. This is it – our last chance. The urgency of the climate crisis and the rise of nationalism around the world call for comprehensive action right now. A second Trump term slams shut our last window of opportunity to address the climate crisis. We don’t even want to think about the unthinkable suffering this will continue to create in our earth community. At the moment, we are not responding with the unity and urgency needed to address this most pressing existential threat facing our republic and the earth as a whole.
If Trump wins in 2020, we may very well see a Trump in the White House for the foreseeable future. As long as a Trump wins, they will keep running Trumps – Donald Trump Jr. in 2024 and 2028 and Ivanka Trump in 2032 and 2036. I am deadly serious about this. In addition to Trump wanting his family to remain at the highest pinnacle of power and thereby furthering Trump’s legacy, a 2020 win by DJT followed by a 2024 win by DJT Jr. is likely the only way DJT avoids prison time, and he will do anything to avoid this.
Trump’s first term was deadly for refugees and immigrants, a deep threat to women’s autonomy, a significant diminishment of rights for persons who are LGBTQIA+, a time of experiencing scapegoating and deep discrimination for persons who are Muslim, a disaster for the climate and the environment as a whole, a threat to the health and safety of the most vulnerable, and a test to see how far Trump could take his presidential authority (the senate trial provided us with the answer – as far as he wants).
As bad as the first Trump term has been, a second term will be exponentially worse and could make it nearly impossible to maintain anything close to a democratic republic. This is a warning. We will be a theocratic fascist state barreling the planet towards climate chaos if Trump wins this November. The only way to keep this from happening? – the greatest political mobilization in U.S. history. Democrats, Progressive and Moderate Independents, and Moderate Republicans Unite or Lose the Republic!
Representative Democracy in a Constitutional Republic (December 28, 2020)
It is shocking to see so many Republicans criticizing the value of democracy itself in their arguments that legislatures should overturn the presidential election in swing states and appoint their own electors and that courts should allow them to do so. It seems as if many Republicans are conflating their antipathy for the Democratic Party with the value of small “d” democracy. Some of these Republicans treat “democracy” as if it is a dirty word and somehow antithetical to a constitutional republic, but that is simply not the case when it comes to our system of government. You may have heard the mantra repeated by many of these Republicans since the defeat of Trump. “We are not a democracy,” they say. “We are a constitutional republic,” they say.
Yes, we are a constitutional republic, but that is not antithetical to representative democracy. Representative democracy is the process by which we build a constitutional republic that represents the people. The founders rightly saw the problems of direct democracy in which the people vote directly on very piece of legislation, but they valued democratic processes as the way to elect our representatives.
The founders were not democratic enough in that they excluded women and people of color from voting, and their processes for selecting U.S. Senators were also not democratic enough in that the senators were not originally elected by a direct vote of the people; but over time and through great struggles, we have developed a strong national consensus that having democratically elected representatives is a good thing.
Hearing the language and seeing the actions of many Republicans who want to overturn the presidential election make it appear that they are willing to destroy our national consensus for democracy and replace it with less democratic and increasingly more authoritarian means for the maintenance and expansion of their power, and that is a truly sad and dangerous state of affairs.
Own it (February 8, 2021)
From a purely pragmatic perspective, the Republicans’ continued embrace of Trump is a gift to the Democratic Party. In a simple cost/benefit analysis, Trump is now more of a liability for the Republican Party than he is an asset, but the party is saddled with the sad reality that many Republicans cannot win primaries unless they continue to support him. Not all Republican politicians may support Trump, but most of them are more worried about their election chances than they are about their personal integrity or the long-term well being of their party or country.
As we enter into Trump’s historic second Senate Impeachment Trial this week, it is readily apparent that Trump’s hold on the Republican Party will keep him from being convicted by the U.S. Senate; but it is important that the trial occurs so that we can see that 45 or so Republican Senators are willing to be on the record in their support for Trump in spite of his responsibility for inciting a violent insurrection. These Senators need to own their unwillingness to hold Trump accountable, and their names need to be etched into the annals of history as enablers of the only president in the history of the United States to incite an insurrection against the United States.
One of the only things Trump did not exaggerate about himself during the last five years was his claim that his followers would stay with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, which pales in comparison to inciting an insurrection on our democratic republic in which 5 people died (and it could have been so much worse). Add this to his violence and cruelty against immigrant and refugee families and his incompetence and malfeasance in responding to the pandemic leading to the preventable death of tens of thousands of people, and the Fifth Avenue example becomes one of Trump’s most significant understatements of his cult-like power over his followers.
So go ahead Republican Senators, continue to support Trump, make excuses for his behavior, make dubious claims about the constitutionality of the trial, and publicly own that you either are okay with Trump inciting a violent insurrection or you are too scared for your political lives to do anything about it. Either way, own that Trump owns you and that he owns your political party.
The Republican Party in its current authoritarian, white supremacist, and increasingly fascist form has needed to cease to exist for a number of years now; so go ahead Senate Republicans, put the moral bankruptcy of your party on display for all to see by failing to hold Trump responsible and by supporting the greatest attack on our democratic republic since the Civil War. Go ahead and own it – the color blue looks real good on Georgia and Arizona. Go ahead and own it, and Texas will soon go blue too. Go ahead and own it, and the Democratic Party will own power at the national level for a generation and hopefully reverse the very real damage the Republican Party has inflicted on our republic for decades. Own it.
No Place for Apathy (August 8, 2021)
Let’s face it. The last year and a half have been really difficult. And it is is not like the years before that were a walk in the park. It is okay to not be okay in relation to the challenging experiences that seem to keep coming our way. It is okay to take some time to retreat for our own mental health and to focus some on our own well-being. Each one of us is a person of inherent worth who is worthy of love and grace, and it is important that we love ourselves and take care of ourselves.
As we are reminded anytime we fly in an airplane, when the cabin is deprived of oxygen, one must put the oxygen mask on themselves first before they can be of proper assistance to others. Having experienced a flight once where the use of oxygen masks were required, this is not an experience I wish on anyone, but it does illustrate that self care is necessary for the proper care of others.
This of course does not mean that we focus so much on the care of ourselves that we don’t care about others or become apathetic about their needs and the challenges they are facing. Once we have the oxygen mask securely over our own face, we have a moral responsibility to help those who are struggling to breathe.
As we look at all the challenges and struggles we are currently facing, this is not the time or place for simply focusing on our own comfort while ignoring the plight of others. As we experience an ongoing public health emergency, we must recognize that the very nature of a public health emergency means that it is not simply about what is good for ourselves or only about our personal decisions and personal responsibility. It is also, and more importantly, about our responsibility to each other as we work together for the health and common good of all.
Our responsibility to each other means that we ought to get vaccinated for the sake of ourselves and others, and given what we know about the Delta variant of COVID-19, our responsibility to each other also means that we should all be wearing masks in indoor public spaces according to CDC and World Health Organization guidance. We cannot allow ourselves to become apathetic about our current health emergency because the virus feeds off of our apathy.
It is not only literal viruses that feed on our apathy and lack of commitment to social responsibility and the common good. Apathy is the enemy of justice and allows the virus of injustice to run rampant in our world. Apathy is giving in to the lie that things cannot get better or at the very least less bad, and this is precisely what the purveyors of social and ecological injustice and its profiteers want.
The corporations and persons who are profiting off of the sixth great extinction on our planet don’t need us to support what they are doing. They just need us to think there is nothing we can really do about it.
Those working to suppress access to voting don’t have to convince the majority of us that they are right to do so. They simply have to keep us apathetic enough to do nothing meaningful about it.
Fossil fuel companies don’t have to convince us that climate change is not real (though they have certainly attempted to do that). They just have to convince us to be apathetic about it. Our apathy translates into their profits.
An effective way to cultivate apathy by those who desire to do so is to create a sense of unsolvable chaos and a world of “alternative facts” through misinformation and propaganda. Take apathy about systemic racism as an example. One way to keep people apathetic about the injustices of systemic racism of the present is to keep them from learning about the reality of the injustices of systemic racism in our past and to falsely portray any significant and sustained resistance to systemic racism as disorder. The effect is the perpetuation of the injustices of systemic racism into our future.
We see this with the current attack on the teaching of Critical Race Theory by numerous state legislatures. This is analogous to the rewriting of the history of the Confederacy by white supremacists who perpetuated the myth of the Lost Cause of the South to deny the real reasons behind the Civil War. The virus of systemic racism feeds on the apathy cultivated by such propaganda.
It is critical to recognize that apathy is often an expression of privilege whereby those who are apathetic are not made more vulnerable by their inaction yet contribute to greater vulnerability of others. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized the danger and privilege of apathy in his criticisms of the silence of white moderates in relation to the fierce urgency of the civil rights movement. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King lamented: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the… great stumbling block in [our]stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another [person’s] freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises [persons who are black] to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
A year before his assassination, King warned that “there is such a thing as being too late” and that “[t]his is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” (King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?).
Who would have thought that 56 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed that these rights would be threatened by a Supreme Court wallowing in its own privilege and by state legislatures hell-bent on turning back the hands of time to an America that was much less diverse, much less just, much less participatory, and much less free.
This current Congress is potentially the last best chance for new comprehensive voting rights legislation. If this opportunity is squandered by the apathy of a couple of white Democratic senators, it could very well be a mortal wound to our democratic republic.
May we truly heed Martin Luther King’s warning and exhortation. “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” May it be so and may we work together to make it so with a common commitment for love and justice before it is too late.