Bob Schwartz

Category: Uncategorized

The Infestation

Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2018

 

Note: The image above, and many of the recent photos you have seen in the news, are by John Moore, a staff special correspondent for Getty Images. Moore has covered many global events and crises, and since 2010 has also focused on immigration issues throughout the United States. He has won many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, and will win more for his coverage of this American humanitarian crisis. His work is a reminder, in a time of infinite content, of the power of an artist and photojournalist to tell a story with just one image.

 

 

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It took thousands of years to curb our natural tendencies toward cruelty. It is coming undone in a matter of weeks.

If you read the Old Testament, which represents life and belief three thousand years or so years ago, you find examples of cruel behavior—even among the faithful. By two thousand years ago, there is increased emphasis on the universal application of mercy, compassion, forgiveness. The historic results are mixed, but there was movement in the right direction. That trajectory continued, with notable interruption and backsliding, until we reached the modern era of enlightened civilization. With all our imperfections—in thought and action—we were going to try harder than ever to be better, and specifically less cruel, in spite of whatever tendencies we have.

We are not the first country to watch as cruelty becomes an official practice. We are not the only country like that in the world right now. But this point has to be made a thousand, a thousand thousand times:

We are all complicit. Whether you use belief and ideology to defend the indefensible practice or attack it, we are all complicit. Whether you sleep the sleep of the ignorant and heartless or toss and turn all night, we are all complicit. If you are a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, an other or a none, we are all complicit.

Abraham Joshua Heschel:

Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.

For more about the photo above, taken at the border on June 12, see The image of a migrant child that broke a photographer’s heart.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Cost of Faith

“The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the most famous German pastoral and theological opponent of Hitler and the Third Reich. The Christian church had been coopted by the Nazis, a development that Bonhoeffer was called and compelled to oppose—not just in his preaching and prayer, but in action. This cost him his life:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian known for his opposition to National Socialism. His ties to the July 20, 1944, conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime led to his execution in 1945. His theological writings are regarded as classics throughout the Christian world….

Born in Breslau on February 4, 1906, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the sixth child of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. After completing his theological studies, he served a German-speaking congregation in Barcelona, Spain, from 1928–1930. He studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1930–1931. During that time he attended Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and became deeply interested in the issue of racial injustice. He also became active in the Protestant ecumenical movement, making international contacts that after 1933 would prove crucial for the Confessing Church and for his time in the German resistance.

With Hitler’s ascent to power, Bonhoeffer’s church—the German Evangelical Church—entered the most difficult phase in its history. Strongly influenced by nationalism and unsettled by the chaos of the Weimar years, many Protestant leaders and church members welcomed the rise of Nazism.

In 1933, a group called the German Christians (Deutsche Christen) began to promote the nazification of German Protestantism through the creation of a pro-Nazi “Reich Church.” The German Christians wanted Protestantism to conform to Nazi ideology, and they pushed for the implementation of the state “Aryan laws” within the churches. The German Christians claimed that Jews, as a “separate race,” could not become members of an “Aryan” German Church through baptism.

Despite widespread antisemitism and enthusiasm for Nazism, most church leaders initially opposed the Aryan paragraph because it contradicted traditional teachings about baptism and ordination. Bonhoeffer argued that its ratification surrendered Christian precepts to political ideology. If “non-Aryans” were banned from the ministry, he argued, their colleagues should resign in solidarity and establish a new “confessing” church that would remain free from Nazi influence. The ideological and theological extremism of the German Christians provoked a backlash among more moderate Protestants, leading to the formation of the Confessing Church in May 1934…..

Bonhoeffer began to train young clergy at an illegal Confessing Church seminary, Finkenwalde, which was closed by the Gestapo in September 1937. Bonhoeffer spent the next two years secretly travelling throughout eastern Germany to supervise his students, most of whom were working illegally in small parishes. The Gestapo banned him from Berlin in January 1938 and issued an order forbidding him from public speaking in September 1940….

The first deportations of Berlin Jews to the east occurred on October 15, 1941. A few days later, Bonhoeffer and Friedrich Perels, a Confessing Church lawyer, wrote a memo giving details of the deportations. The memo was sent to foreign contacts as well as trusted German military officials, in the hope that it might move them to action. Bonhoeffer also became peripherally involved in “Operation Seven,” a plan to get Jews out of Germany by giving them papers as foreign agents. After the Gestapo uncovered the “Operation Seven” funds that had been sent abroad for the emigrants, Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi were arrested in April 1943.

Bonhoeffer was initially charged with conspiring to rescue Jews, using his foreign travels for non-intelligence matters, and misusing his intelligence position to help Confessing Church pastors evade military service. After the failed July 20, 1944, coup attempt, his connections to the broader resistance circles were uncovered and he was moved to the Gestapo prison in Berlin. In February 1945, he was taken to Buchenwald and in April moved to the Flossenbürg concentration camp. On April 9, 1945, he was hanged with other conspirators.

In his best-known work, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer writes about the difference between cheap and costly grace:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

We are thankful that a number of American religious leaders have finally risen up to speak out against only the latest indecency perpetrated by Trump. But we must remind them that sometimes, in the face of overwhelming evil, a little is not enough. Whatever their particular tradition or theology, they should understand the difference between cheap and costly faith. And between words and actions.

Bobby Kennedy

Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Bobby Kennedy was killed 50 years ago today, in the midst of what might have been a successful campaign for the Democratic nomination and for the presidency in 1968. We don’t know unwritten stories. He was 42 years old.

You will find plenty of perspectives on Bobby Kennedy published today, and in the dozens of books and hundreds of essays written about him and his place in history. I’ve written about him too, but today I find myself with little new to say.

Instead, I’ll quote, as I have before, from a poem he recited on the campaign trail.

The poem is Ulysses (1842), written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Imagine that. A 20th century politician reciting a 19th century poem about a hero who first appeared more than two thousand years earlier. Not just any poem and hero, but an idealistic poem about a hero who reluctantly takes on a mission. Having already sacrificed family life for duty, he can’t help but set out one more time. Leaving the life of ease behind, he fiercely pursues a dream until the end of days.

The language of the poetry may be old-fashioned to the modern ear, but please read it carefully. It remains a timeless description of what drives people to mission and sacrifice, in spite of the lure of comfort and the toll of years. If America needed that—and almost got it—in 1968, we need it now.

…Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

 

Pardon Me Myself and I

Last November I wrote:

A best guess is that Trump would love to pardon everybody, or almost everybody, who might be caught in the net of the special investigation….There is a thought that his pardon of those who might provide evidence in the ongoing investigation could be considered obstruction of justice. Of course, that charge will have to wait until he is out of office, since a sitting president cannot be indicted. Plus, he can pardon himself for any federal crimes, including that. So that would not stop Trump.

And here we are. While his pardon of others is still a work in progress, Trump now loudly claims the absolute power to pardon himself.

As with all things Trump, he has managed to distract us. Like he does with his lies. As reasonable citizens, we want to focus on important lies the president tells. But we can’t focus because he tells so absurdly many of them (3,000 and counting, according to the Washington Post).

The little issue at the moment is whether the president has the power, conditional or absolute, to pardon himself. The issue has never been litigated, and despite the overwhelming view that it is wrong, legally and morally, there is a small colorable claim for this position. Not a claim I would make as a conscientious patriotic American lawyer if Trump was my client, but a constitutional claim that could be made.

The much, much bigger issue we are distracted from is that a President of the United States is for the first time ever claiming the absolute power to pardon himself in the face of criminal activity he is charged with or has committed. Our most corrupt presidents of the past—and we’ve had a handful—have convinced themselves that they could get away with plenty. But even as crooked as they were, they believed that claiming such a self-pardoning power not only relegated them to political hell, but to actual hell itself. It seems we finally have a president who isn’t afraid of going to hell—because he is already there, and is taking us with him.

How Smart People Miss the Rise of Authoritarian Rule. Until It Is Too Late.

If you listen carefully, you will hear respected journalists and observers now saying some things about Trump that you rarely heard from them before—not during his campaign, and not until recently during his presidency:

He is a liar.
He is a narcissist, possibly mentally disordered.
He is corrupt.
He is leading America towards authoritarian rule.

Why have they been so reluctant to speak more plainly about the obvious? First, because these are extreme characterizations, not to be offered lightly. Second, the appearance of objectivity is important for these journalists and observers, and such extreme characterizations can be seen as biased—even if true. Third, many people who reached these conclusions could hardly believe it themselves. Finally, in a fit of magical thinking, they thought that it would pass, and that we would revert, much sooner than later, to a more traditional, conventional, decent, reasonable, principled, truthful, democratic approach to American government.

This led me to wonder about others who have observed and covered historic authoritarians as they rose to power. I came across the book Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power (2012). Those Americans who had a front-row seat to the first act of one of history’s darkest and most tragic eras—what did they think they were watching?

Andrew Nagorski writes:

Today, it’s conventional wisdom that Hitler’s intentions were perfectly clear from the outset and that his policies could only result in World War II and the Holocaust. Most people find it hard to imagine that in the 1920s and right through the 1930s, American reporters, diplomats, entertainers, sociologists, students and others living in or passing through Germany wouldn’t have all instantly seen and understood what was happening before their eyes. After all, they had ringside seats, providing them with an unparalleled view of the most dramatic story of the twentieth century. Several of them not only observed Hitler from afar, but met and spoke to him, both when he was still a local agitator in Munich and then the all-powerful dictator in Berlin. To them, he wasn’t some abstract embodiment of evil but a real-life politician. Some Americans tried to take his measure very early, while others did so once he was in power. And even those who didn’t have those opportunities witnessed the consequences of his actions.

Yet their readings of what was happening in Germany, and what Hitler represented, varied greatly. There were those who met Hitler and recognized he represented almost a primeval force and possessed an uncanny ability to tap into the emotions and anger of the German people, and those who dismissed him as a clownish figure who would vanish from the political scene as quickly as he had appeared. There were those who, at least initially, viewed him and his movement sympathetically or even embraced it, and those whose instinctive misgivings quickly gave way to full-scale alarm, recognizing that he was a threat not only to Germany but also to the world.

I AM a Person: The Sign of Freedom for Everybody

Looking back at civil rights demonstrations, you see a sign that was regularly carried: I AM a Man. That is, I am not what others say I am, not how others treat me. I am a complete and independent human being, worthy of all that means.

The particular issue of civil and human rights remains unresolved, a work in progress. But the sign is more than that, and is needed in America and elsewhere more than ever.

Many of us, much of the time, are subject to so many outside influences that shape our own thinking and actions. That shape our expectations. That shape our choices. That is the nature and result of historic levels of hyper-saturated commercial/consumer/celebrity media culture.

We are trapped by those influences because we are trapped by our expectations and choices. We have trapped ourselves. We have marched down a one-way alley. We can party in an alley, and we do. We can live and die in an alley, and we do. But it can get crowded and uncomfortable, and when we sense that we are trapped, we might want to look for a way out.

That’s where that old demonstration sign comes in. I AM a Person. Not that other person, not that message, not that expectation, not that thing. Not what I hear and see, not what I say and show. A person. I AM a person.

The American Clown and the Circus Back Office

Circuses aren’t as popular as they once were. But they still offer a lesson we can apply today.

While the spectacular show is going on in the three rings, somewhere else is the boring circus back office. The show is filled with clowns, animals and death-defying acts. The back office is all business.

That is what is going on at the highest levels of American government. The circus features a chief clown, who has us bedazzled and befuddled by a bizarre combination of absurd nonsense and erratic behavior. Behind the scenes, in the back office, there is a disempowering or dismantling of institutions and principles that are foundational America. Those who want that American regress know that a clown is in the center ring, but don’t care as long as people in the audience remain distracted.

Distracted we are by the clown and the circus. Even if we somehow manage to fire the clown, the damage will have been done, and the back office will still be hard at work.

Punishing Patriots Who Protest: I Am Not Sitting Through This Movie Again

Loyal opposition is not just a hallmark of American democracy. It is American democracy.

But whenever opposition becomes protest, and protest becomes uncomfortable and threatening, the quick fix for the simple-minded and reactionary (who don’t actually understand democracy, not really) is to label protest unpatriotic and label protesters traitors.

Many of us in America have had to sit through this movie multiple times. If you add historical incidents—such as the Red Scare of the 1950s—there are many more examples.

The latest is the new National Football League rule that players must stay and stand for the national anthem. They can’t leave the sideline, they can’t kneel, presumably they can’t raise their fists in a power salute. Stand, shut up, and play (dance).

This whole scenario was started by the President, who jumped on this as soon as the issue began last NFL season. His most recent pronouncement was that players who don’t stand for the national anthem are not just unpatriotic—they should leave the country. (The irony of the most un-American President in history—who really should leave the country—is hardly worth mentioning.)

So, no, I really don’t want to sit through this movie again. But just as in the past, there is no choice. In the past, though, American democracy—that amazing combination of Constitution and common sense—prevailed and pulled through, though it took a while. The concern this time, in this and other areas, is that balance has tipping points, and recovery of balance can be a very grueling and questionable process once it is tipped over.

Whose blood? Whose hands?

LADY MACBETH:
Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!
Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1

And Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him. And the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? Listen! your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil.
Genesis 4:8-10

This was originally drafted in response to this week’s Israeli violence, in which dozens of Palestinian protestors were killed and hundreds wounded.

Then this morning, still another high school shooting, this in Santa Fe, Texas, has left at least nine dead.

Worlds apart, these are related. Whenever ideology and belief result in unnatural deaths, questions should be asked by the zealous ideologues and believers themselves. If they are completely and unconditionally convinced that their belief is worth the mortal price that others pay, then they should proceed. But whether those beliefs are religious or constitutional, they are not relieved by justification from asking the questions: Whose blood? Whose hands? Because they know—or should—that the blood is on theirs. They are the keepers of their brothers, sisters and children. Even if they don’t listen or want to listen, or they make loud excuses or evasions, the blood cries out.