Overcoming 21st Century Fascism

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.

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A Period of Consequences

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, Hungry, 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.”

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Below the Belt and Above the Fold

The Oklahoman

Oklahoma’s largest daily newspaper, The Oklahoman, decided to put the name and picture of the Democratic candidate for Governor of Oklahoma, Drew Edmondson, right next to the name and picture of Hillary Clinton on the front page above the fold of the Sunday edition right before Election Day. I get that The Oklahoman is one of the most conservative papers in the country. I get that the likelihood of The Oklahoman ever endorsing a Democrat for Governor in my lifetime is about as high as Senator Inhofe becoming a champion in the fight to do something about global warming, but this above the fold front page editorial linkage of Edmondson with Clinton is simply a below the belt dirty trick by a newspaper that cares very little for journalistic integrity and cares very much about serving the corporate elite in Oklahoma.

Yes, The Oklahoman also put a picture of the Republican candidate for Governor, Kevin Stitt, right next to the name and picture of Mary Fallin, but they didn’t put Stitt’s name and an extra picture of him right next to hers, and they know how even moderate Republicans in Oklahoma react to Hillary Clinton. Knowing the editorial history of The Oklahoman, it is reasonable to assume that this was a calculated move to peel away moderate Republicans from Edmondson and motivate the rabid Hillary haters at the last minute before the election. As unpopular as Governor Fallin may be, she has won numerous statewide elections in Oklahoma, whereas Clinton did not win one county in Oklahoma in 2016. There is perhaps no other politician more reviled than Hillary Clinton in this state. The Oklahoman knew exactly what they were doing by associating the candidate they oppose on the front page of the paper with Hillary Clinton – as if she has anything to do with the governor’s race in Oklahoma.

And why is it that The Oklahoman and the other major daily newspaper in the state, the Tulsa World, both endorsed Kevin Stitt over Drew Edmondson for governor. The reason has everything to do with the fact that Drew Edmondson made it clear that he cares more about funding education and protecting the environment than he does about protecting oil and gas companies from the restoration of the 7% gross production tax and protecting industrial agriculture from regulations that keep our land, water, and air clean. These two oil and gas funded newspapers would rather have a non-voting political neophyte who talks like Trump and runs his businesses like Trump than someone who won’t be completely controlled by the oil and gas industry like their newspapers are. This is the pathetic reality of Oklahoma politics and most of Oklahoma journalism.

One would think that after years of poorly funded K-12 and higher education, closing rural hospitals, a crumbling infrastructure, the highest incarceration rate on the planet, and years of revenue short falls, that Oklahomans would see through the myth that the oil and gas industry and the state and big city chambers of commerce are looking out for the interests of all Oklahomans, when in reality they fight for tax cuts and gutting environmental regulations that benefit the wealthiest among us but bring very little benefit to the most vulnerable citizens in our communities.

The pathetic reality of an oil and gas controlled Oklahoma politics will not change and the collusion among big business and big media to continue the hegemony of the fossil fuel industry will not end until the people of Oklahoma finally wake up to the reality that we are not “doing fine” and all is not “ok” and vote for a new Oklahoma that serves all people and that cares for well-being of our earth both now and for generations of life to come. Electing Drew Edmondson as Governor of Oklahoma would be a significant step in that direction. He is the only candidate running for governor who has a record of standing up against corporations for the well-being of people and the environment, and this is precisely why the state’s largest newspaper with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry so openly opposes his candidacy.

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Angry Jesus

Donald Trump
Brynn Anderson AP

Typically when we think of Jesus, an angry Jesus is not what first comes to mind for the majority of Christians. Loving Jesus, meek and mild Jesus, forgiving Jesus, healing Jesus, servant Jesus,  obeying the governing authorities Jesus, saving Jesus, he’s got the whole world in his hands Jesus, and coming back soon Jesus – these are the images of Jesus that tend to get more play in our culture these days, especially among self-described “evangelical” Christians.

We tend to stick with the “safe Jesus” and the “not going to rock the boat Jesus.” This Jesus isn’t going to piss off too many people. This Jesus won’t run off the wealthy donors in our churches. We can build big church buildings and create mega-churches with this Jesus. We can square this Jesus with just about any political or economic perspective we might have. This Jesus gives us a pass when it comes to climate change and the fact that we are responsible for starting the sixth great extinction event in the history of earth, because the world as we know it is going to end soon anyway, so why do anything that might radically change the status quo for nothing? This Jesus is in control, and we don’t really have to worry too much about our economic and political actions with a Jesus like this.

The problem is that this image of Jesus, although based on some truths (Jesus is loving, healing, serving, humble, and forgiving), hides the fullness of how Jesus was depicted by the Gospel writers. It ignores the justice seeking Jesus; the Jesus who spoke woe to hypocrites; the Jesus who was baptized by the one who preached repentance and warned people of the wrath to come; the Jesus who warned of the consequences of not caring for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the sick; the liberating the oppressed Jesus; the angry Jesus; the turning over tables Jesus; and the Jesus who was seen as such a threat to the governing authorities that he became the crucified Jesus.

From a variety of depictions of Jesus in the Gospels in the New Testament, we get a clear picture of the things and actions that the Gospel writers portray as making Jesus angry, and these things and actions are the very things a large segment of self-described “evangelical” Christians seem to be embracing in the United States. By embracing Trumpism with its rejection of the refugee, its wanton disregard for the well-being of the environment, its persistence in decimating access to affordable healing from healthcare, its disregard for oppressed people and people of color, its attempts to make the poor even more vulnerable than they already are, its glorification of violence, its relentless attack on the truth, and its separating of children from their parents who are seeking asylum; “evangelical” Christians are doing the very things that make for an angry Jesus, a very angry Jesus, a whip-wielding, turning-over-tables Jesus.

If Jesus were to visit what has become one of the most popular gatherings of American “evangelical” Christians, a Trump rally, to express his anger at their embracing of the idolatry of Trumpism, and if angry Jesus were to begin turning over tables at a Trump rally, Trump would want this Jesus “roughed up,” and he might say out loud that he longed for “the good old days” when angry Jesus might be “taken out on a stretcher.” Trump might want to punch this Jesus in the face or at least “look into paying the legal fees” of persons who might sucker punch angry Jesus. Trump might even tell the armed security at the rally to consider angry Jesus’ whip to be a rifle.

If angry Jesus were to make it out of an American “evangelical” Christian Trump rally alive, he might find himself met by a group of Proud Boys in the streets outside the rally, thrown to the ground and kicked and beaten mercilessly, and the next day neither Trump nor the American “evangelical” Christians at the rally who witnessed the treatment of angry Jesus would say one negative word about it, and Trump might even get on FOX News to proclaim, “Maybe he should’ve been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”

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Only Love Can Do That

In an evening in which it has been difficult for me to find the words to express my sadness for the expressions of hate and the loss of life today, may Mark Miller’s voice and music, and the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. strengthen our souls to wake up tomorrow and express only love.

Only Love Can Do That

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Ministry and Politics

mlk-1965-selma-montgomery-march-p

In our official work within churches, we who are ministers must be non-partisan in our political rhetoric and engagement to protect the non-profit status of our churches and respect the agreement within our religious communities that our churches will be non-partisan (note: a church could decide it wants to be partisan, but it would need to forfeit its non-profit status to do so). However, being non-partisan does not mean we must be non-political in our official capacity as ministers. Within the Christian tradition for example, the work of Jesus in the world was profoundly political. That is most likely why he was executed by political authorities on political charges. Following Jesus is a political act.

Bringing good news to the poor and oppressed and liberation to those who are held captive by systems of domination requires us to engage in political work as ministers and even openly criticize and resist the actions of governmental authorities if these actions are opposed to what it means to love and care for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. This can all be done in the prescribed non-partisan ways (not endorsing a candidate or a political party or calling on our congregations to work against a candidate or political party). The decision by ministers to attempt not to engage in any political action in our official role as ministers in our churches is actually itself a profoundly political action in a context in which our social, political, and economic systems are oppressing the vulnerable ones with whom Jesus calls us all to be in mission and harming the community of all creation.

Ministers, like all persons, do not only act in our official capacities of our employment; we are also members and active participants within the broader human community and have responsibilities to be politically engaged and are free to do so in partisan ways if we so choose. Once again, when we who are ministers choose not to engage in political action as citizens outside of our official capacity within our churches, this is a profoundly political choice as well.

In a context in which harm is being done to our neighbors who are refugees and immigrants, women are being mocked for speaking out about sexual assaults, persons who are LGBTQIA are experiencing discrimination, our incarceration rate is the highest on the planet and our criminal justice system shows clear bias against persons of color, inequality between the rich and the poor is increasing, millions of persons do not have adequate access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the flames of fear and hatred of persons who relate to religion differently are being openly fanned, and the very earth itself is being ravaged by human activity; trying to be non-political is not only a political choice, it is also an irresponsible and immoral choice as well.

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Becoming Great

Sketch for 'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' c.1851 by Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893

Ford Madox Brown. Sketch for ‘Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet’. c.1851

My Dear American Christian Siblings,

This is what Mark’s Jesus said about becoming great: “But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” -Mark 10:43-45, Common English Bible

If we Christian Americans want to become great, I am pretty sure it will not happen through the way the majority of us are currently headed. Our greatness as followers of Jesus will not come from the way of “strong leader” authoritarianism, the way of turning our backs on the immigrant and the refugee, the way of separating parents from their children, the way of not hearing those who have been harmed physically and emotionally, the way of white male domination of our economics and politics, the way of increasing inequality between the rich and the poor, the way of increasing injustices against people of color, the way of decreasing access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the way of discriminating against those who orient themselves to religion differently than we do, the way of discriminating against our LGBTQIA siblings, or the way of increasing our exploitation and harm of the earth. This is not way to greatness; this is the way of hubris and hate, the way of injustice and oppression, the way that Jesus would often simply refer to as sin.

If we are to become great as followers of Jesus, our greatness will come from the way of love of all our neighbors and all our enemies, the way of humility as members of a common humanity and community of all creation, the way of working for justice with the poor and oppressed, the way of bringing affordable healing and care for all people, the way of welcoming the stranger and the refugee, the way of reuniting families instead of tearing them apart, the way of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, the way of providing homes for the homeless, the way of peacemaking and not hate-making and fear-making, the way of opening our hearts and our homes to people of different religions and no religion, the way of listening to and respecting women, the way in which the lives of people of color matter just as much as the lives of white people, the way of restorative justice rather than retributive justice, the way in which all persons are treated equally as persons of sacred worth regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the way of repairing and regenerating the earth as we care for all creation.

If we as followers of Jesus in the United States are to become great, we must turn over the tables of injustice in our land, we must become lovers of all humanity and all creation, we must become willing to take up our cross and actually follow the one whom we claim to follow and work sacrificially to create the Beloved Community of All Creation. if we do these things, then we have an opportunity to contribute to the goodness of our nation and the flourishing of all persons and the whole planet, and that my dear Christian American siblings would really be great.

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