Triangle Square Circle (60-90-0)
Here and gone
Triangle Square Circle (60-90-0)
Here and gone
Of the ten thousand words
I could wield as weapons this moment
to attack an innocent
(all are as innocent as they are guilty)
the greater for all
the lesser for none
The founders of America had a dream, fueled by the Enlightenment and by what we might call Christian realism about how people really are.
It would be ideal to depend on the kindness of strangers, but experience has shown that strangers cannot always be relied on and are not always kind. Instead, as a national community, we are committed—by the Constitution those founders hammered out—to “promote the general welfare.”
With many ups and downs, and some real gaps, that has generally worked out during the first two centuries of that American dream. Those days may not be over, but the founding principle is under serious, if not existential, threat.
The Shutdown is just one example, but a glaring one. At best, Trump and his cohort believe that forcing federal workers to work without pay will be taken care of by the private sector. At worst and most likely, they just don’t care.
America has tried political philosophies that leaned to individual self-help and more limited government. But never before has the governing philosophy (if you can call it that) literally pushed Americans—Americans working for other Americans—into forced labor and economic hardship.
Welcome to Trump America, where it’s every man, woman and child for themselves.
William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the Senate considers his nomination to be Trump’s Attorney General. The Democratic Senators asked some specific and incisive questions about his independence from Trump and about his willingness to allow the Mueller investigation and report to proceed unimpeded. The answers were often ambiguous and weasely. In any case, it does not practically matter. The hearing was pro forma, as his confirmation is assured.
It is a cliché to say that America is more divided than it has ever been in modern times. This is an inadequate understatement. However it has happened, America, including some leading figures in the legislative and judicial branches, has sorted itself into two diametric sides. Despite some feeble attempts to equivocate this as “good Americans on both sides,” the fact is that an unequally large number of Republicans have decided to abandon many of the virtues we have long assumed are basic not just to America but to good governance and American life in general.
Unlike the earlier Civil War, whole states won’t withdraw from the republic. But a minority of Americans will, or rather, they will support remaking core institutions and values until the republic—and the working world order—is more to their liking.
This Civil War won’t have a Fort Sumter, but it will have a series of moments. The current shutdown is one of those. The possible withdrawal from NATO is another. Then there will be the end of the Mueller investigation, including a report and additional indictments. There is now every reason to believe that the report will not be made public and that indictments in the works will be stopped, along with any collateral FBI investigations. Assume also that if House committees call administration officials to testify, those officials will refuse on the basis of executive privilege. Pardons, of course, will follow all this.
So it goes. What will happen next? How will it end?
In the 1850s, it looked increasingly possible that there would be some radical upshot to a deep divide on substantial moral and political questions. Yet a real civil war was still a shock, and ultimately a brutal solution. Now, rather than a divide based on momentous issues, some are merely fighting to protect the power of a corrupt and amoral American autocrat. It may be a petty platform they are standing on, but make no mistake that they will stand firm, and there will be injuries in this civil war—to people, to institutions, and to the republic itself.
this table seems
useful and pleasing
but does not belong here
pick your friends
as you would
furniture in your room
“Put even more simply, the German Parliament would be requested to turn over its constitutional functions to Hitler and take a long vacation.”
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Williams L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich remains, almost sixty years after publication, the single most readable one-volume history of Nazi Germany. If you like history, but don’t think the story is relevant today, it is still a good read. If you think it might have some relevance, it is essential.
Hitler came to power without ever winning the presidency (he came in second in 1932) and without the Nazis ever having a majority in parliament. Yet in 1933, the Nazis were in control, all civil rights were abrogated, and Hitler would remain until 1945 dictator of one of history’s most infamous, oppressive and deadly regimes.
On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag, home of German parliament, was burned down. It was blamed on Communists, but it was actually the work of the Nazis. The Reichstag fire was an excuse to seize absolute power. Shirer writes:
On the day following the fire, February 28, he [Hitler] prevailed on President Hindenburg to sign a decree “for the Protection of the People and the State” suspending the seven sections of the constitution which guaranteed individual and civil liberties. Described as a “defensive measure against Communist acts of violence endangering the state,” the decree laid down that:
Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searchers, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.
In addition, the decree authorized the Reich government to take over complete power in the federal states when necessary and imposed the death sentence for a number of crimes, including “serious disturbances of the peace” by armed persons….
With all the resources of the national and Prussian governments at their disposal and with plenty of money from big business in their coffers, the Nazis carried on an election propaganda such as Germany had never seen before. For the first time the State-run radio carried the voices of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels to every corner of the land. The streets, bedecked with swastika flags, echoed to the tramp of the storm troopers. There were mass rallies, torchlight parades, the din of loudspeakers in the squares. The billboards were plastered with flamboyant Nazi posters and at night bonfires lit up the hills. The electorate was in turn cajoled with promises of a German paradise, intimidated by the brown terror in the streets and frightened by “revelations” about the Communist “revolution.” The day after the Reichstag fire the Prussian government issued a long statement declaring that it had found Communist “documents” proving:
Government buildings, museums, mansions and essential plants were to be burned down… Women and children were to be sent in front of terrorist groups… The burning of the Reichstag was to be the signal for a bloody insurrection and civil war… It has been ascertained that today was to have seen throughout Germany terrorist acts against individual persons, against private property, and against the life and limb of the peaceful population, and also the beginning of general civil war.
Publication of the “documents proving the Communist conspiracy” was promised, but never made. The fact, however, that the Prussian government itself vouched for their authenticity impressed many Germans….
On March 5, 1933, the day of the last democratic elections they were to know during Hitler’s life, they spoke with their ballots. Despite all the terror and intimidation, the majority of them rejected Hitler. The Nazis led the polling with 17,277,180 votes—an increase of some five and a half million, but it comprised only 44 per cent of the total vote. A clear majority still eluded Hitler. All the persecution and suppression of the previous weeks did not prevent the Center Party from actually increasing its vote from 4,230,600 to 4,424,900; with its ally, the Catholic Bavarian People’s Party, it obtained a total of five and a half million votes. Even the Social Democrats held their position as the second largest party, polling 7,181,629 votes, a drop of only 70,000. The Communists lost a million supporters but still polled 4,848,058 votes. The Nationalists [Nazis], led by Papen and Hugenberg, were bitterly disappointed with their own showing, a vote of 3,136,760, a mere 8 per cent of the votes cast and a gain of less than 200,000.
Still, the Nationalists’ 52 seats, added to the 288 of the Nazis, gave the government a majority of 16 in the Reichstag. This was enough, perhaps, to carry on the day-to-day business of government but it was far short of the two-thirds majority which Hitler needed to carry out a new, bold plan to establish his dictatorship by consent of Parliament.
The plan was deceptively simple and had the advantage of cloaking the seizure of absolute power in legality. The Reichstag would be asked to pass an “enabling act” conferring on Hitler’s cabinet exclusive legislative powers for four years. Put even more simply, the German Parliament would be requested to turn over its constitutional functions to Hitler and take a long vacation.
Those of us who do not strictly observe the Sabbath, or those whose beliefs don’t come close to even acknowledging it, can still accept its gift.
It comes around like clockwork, or actually calendarwork, like it or observe it or believe it or not. It is a stop on a weekly journey, sort of a vacation, literally. We vacate the week, stuffed as it is with whatever has been foist upon us by others or by ourselves.
It is not that we are different on this special day, no more than we are different on any of the holidays which we have just celebrated. Instead, on those holidays and on this weekly holiday, we are invited to be our best selves. The things of our weekly world don’t always bring out the best in us. The day is a reminder not that we can be better but that we are better, if we give ourselves the chance.
And, as we sense the joy it can bring, maybe our Sabbath selves show up every day.
“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president. That’s probably the end of his presidency. Donald Trump has made a promise to the American people.”
Senator Lindsey Graham
Just because someone makes a promise doesn’t mean it’s a promise for something good. Just because someone makes a promise doesn’t mean you want him to keep that promise.
More than 60% of the American people don’t want the promised Wall. Even more Americans than that don’t want to marry Trump, or want anyone in their family to marry Trump. No matter what promises he made.
There are many viruses in the world that don’t have a devastating effect on civilization. Whether confined to remote jungles, swamps or deserts, they are at home in their natural ecosystem, where their harm is limited.
That is Trump. As long as he remained in the worlds of business and entertainment, he might do some damage and have some negative effect, but it mostly remained in those spheres.
Then, through a series of unfortunate events, he escaped those environments and was inflicted on the world at large. Like a virus brought home from a jungle, once it spread, it appeared there was no stopping it. A new disease, we are unsure of treatment. We hardly even know what it is. All we know are its symptoms and impact, the likes of which we have never seen before.