It Can Happen Here.

March 16, 2017

It can happen here pix

I was born in 1949, four scant years after the end of World War II.  My father had been a B17 navigator in the Army Air Corp and flew more than 20 missions over Germany.  After the war he went back to college and then enlisted in the Air Force.  We moved around a lot, about every three years, but in each new location I attended Catholic school.  It was there that I formed a foundation in moral principles and ethics, as well as a basic understanding of civics. But it was through my father’s military experience, that by his example, I understood the place for rules and regulations, laws and tradition, in our society.

In a Catholic school, morality was taught from two points of view.  The first was a delineation of the degrees of sin based on the ten commandments.  These sins had various weight or values, gravity.  The second was a classification of sin mandated by Church law and required dogma.  In the both categories, sin was broken down into mortal and venial sins.  A mortal sin could be murder, unmarried sex, or, missing mass on Sundays, each of which condemned the sinner to suffer the eternal fires of hell. Frankly, I never understood the equivalency of these offenses, nor the cold-hearted judgement of a loving and forgiving God as reasonable.  A venial sin was one that sent the offender to purgatory for a temporary singing of the soul, something purported to work like the cleansing properties of a medieval bloodletting, rather than punishment inflicted on a mortal sinner to burn in the eternal fires of hell.  This was complicated and illogical stuff, but one thing was very clear—certain actions were very wrong and had grave consequences, and were to be avoided. Rules, regulations and laws were necessary for our safety by maintaining order.  No one was to be exempt.  As an abstract concept, we are all equal in God’s eyes and under the law.

Civics was another matter.  It was presented as something logical and simple and above board.  We live in a democracy governed by three branches that provide checks and balances to each other.  Our rights are guaranteed by our Constitution, rights like freedom of religion. Free speech is also protected by the Constitution to guarantee that media and press are safe from persecution, that they may provide oversight of the three branches thus delivering critical information, news of the day, to the electorate who determines who shall govern.  Once again, the concept of equality under the law rose front and center and it validated this system of governance in our eyes.

Eventually, these two fields of study would form a chaotic confluence in our study of history and the consequence was inevitably a philosophical discussion of the merits of some historical event in question with a hypothetical solution, a history altering choice to be made by us students. Being only a few years after World War II, morality, as discussed in religion class, opened the door to an exploration of the righteous cause of the United States in that war and a questioning of the German people in their support of evil leaders.  Hitler became a huge stumbling block, as the question posed to the class was this:  If you had the opportunity to kill Hitler before the war, would you do it?  Now to answer this, one has to first be comfortable with the taking of life, a clear violation of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  But beyond that, one must possess a foreknowledge of future events and assume the moral authority to act as judge, jury and executioner in the absence of due process, contrary to our American principles and in my case, Catholic ethics. The argument in favor of assassinating Hitler was the saving of millions of lives, that with historical hindsight, as history students, we all knew were extinguished in the most horrific ways by Hitler and his Nazis.

The second philosophical discussion centered around the German people.  How could they allow such things to happen?  It was unfathomable to our young minds, so rather than disrupt our sleep patterns with unnecessary anxiety, we were told by our teachers not to worry because “it can’t happen here.”  Yes, we understood that and we believed it wholeheartedly.  We have a system of checks and balances and we have freedom of religion and we have a free press and we have checks and balances and we get to vote for our leaders and we are not dragged off in the middle of the night by the Gestapo to disappear for interrogation by torture.  Yes, we are safe because we are a moral people with moral leaders and we always act morally because we continue to act according to the principles on which we were founded.  No, it can’t happen here.

Then JFK was assassinated and all that changed.  Before that, Marilyn Monroe’s untimely death was never given the public scrutiny it deserved. Now a boondoggle investigative body, the Warren Commission, a body as ineffectual as deodorant spray on a skunk, added layers of conjecture and erroneous science to create a complicated scenario establishing a bogus history of that event.  RFK and MLK followed in quick succession with similar results while we lived through a war based on lies that took hundreds of thousands of our young men’s lives to line the pockets of military contractors and boost the economy.  And then we got, ta da,  Richard Nixon and his band of thugs, including our prestigious Secretary of State and wanted war criminal in France, Henry Kissinger.  No it can’t happen here.  When the national guard killed four students at Kent State walking to class, we were told, it can’t happen here.  When we decimated the village of MyLai and piled the bodies of old people, women and children in a ditch, we were told it can’t happen here. Remember Custer?… hmmm. It took a decade of protest by peaceniks and hippies, college students and liberals, Walter Cronkite seeing the light, Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein to bring down Humpty Dumpty, only to have Gerald Ford pardon this most egregious criminal in the “national interest” and I have to wonder, would the German people have done that for Hitler? Their war criminals got a trial and execution.  Our war criminals get house arrest and a pardon.  Just what is it that can’t happen here? Torture?  Rendition?  What?

But it doesn’t end there, and it’s a long story, so let’s just fast forward to the present day.  A few years ago when the GOP foisted Sarah Palin on us, I thought, “could it possibly get any worse?”  How can they expect anyone to vote for such an ill informed idiot. But they did. All the while Rush Limbaugh, the de facto GOP minister of propaganda, echoed from the radio to our aging population who still prefer to get their news and opinion from such an archaic device. Ah yes, freedom of the press.  It can’t happen here. And so opinions are formed around rigid values, unyielding rules that a clever surrogate can use to preach to the choir in their own language, creating the illusion of a shared identity and trust.  But be sure of this—they have nothing in common with that surrogate or his master, manipulators all.

But we must realize that it does happen here.  It happens when we put nationalism before patriotism.  It happens because we regard ourselves as so special and so different that we consider ourselves to be immune to the temptations and pitfalls that have ensnared other nations. (We call ourselves “the greatest nation on earth.”)  It happens because we have become indifferent and yet arrogant, angry, mad and fearful.  It happens because we refuse to believe that our leaders aren’t any different than their leaders.  It happens because we elect representatives not rulers and we cannot imagine that corruption exists in such a system. It happens because we do not follow our instincts and we allow ourselves to be hogtied by unspoken rules requiring absolute, verifiable legal proof before acting defensively in our own, best self interests.  By then you are dead my friend. It happens because we are too busy, too ignorant and too trustful.  It happens because we allow it to happen when we are lied to, just because we are too lazy and too ill-equipped to untangle the truth from the mass of alternative facts, intentional disinformation.  It happens because we each maintain a personal belief system that obstructs real knowledge through a delusional confirmation of our beliefs when flattered by liars who manage our beliefs for their private ends. “Pride cometh before the fall.”

It’s one thing to be disappointed in our leaders but to look back and ask “how did this happen” without recognizing our own part in making it so, like that of the German people before the war, is truly the biggest disappointment of all.

And so here we find ourselves with Trump.

Trump, who admires Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un as strong leaders. Trump, a documented liar and self proclaimed sexual deviant and pervert, a narcissist who believes himself to be above the law and has weaseled his way into the one office that keeps him above the law and any reasonable oversight, especially regarding his financial entanglements with questionable foreign banks, foreign communist governments and criminal business entities. Trump who seeks to exempt Muslims from the protections offered by religious freedom that we all enjoy.  Trump who promotes nationalism.  Trump whose main advisor is a Leninist who seeks to demolish the establishment in order to rebuild it anew.  Trump who floated the Idea of jailing his campaign opponent after the election. Trump who has shown clear animosity for every minority with shameless, abusive rhetoric.  Trump whose policies move wealth from the lower classes to the extremely wealthy.  Trump who dismantles federal agencies and policies designed to protect us and our environment from physical and financial harm.  That Trump.  That is who we have looked the other way for.  That is who we have given a free pass to play the lottery with our money for his benefit. Why?  Because he’s made a lot of money for himself, that’s why.  So why should we expect it to be any different because by all visible signs, it is happening here?

The answer is because for the moment we can still exercise our freedoms.  We can protest, as we have been doing and we must continue to do. We ended the war in Vietnam.   With a free press we brought down Nixon.  Let’s not forget that.


One comment

  1. Yup, it sure can!

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