The Truth Behind Mr. Trump’s Crude Metaphor

Shithole

President Trump’s done it again. He’s snatched away the patina of political correctness that normally conceals the brutal realities of a U.S. policy. His recent words about “shithole countries” say more than most imagine, not only about Haiti and Africa, but about history, colonialism, immigrants in general, and (surprisingly) about faith-inspired anti-colonial resistance. In other words, the offensive imagery is profoundly revealing and worth probing for its subconscious meaning and implications for immigration policy.

Begin by considering the operative words themselves. They were pronounced in the context of a White House meeting about immigration policy. There Mr. Trump wondered “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?”

Such poetic metaphor suggests two meanings. On the one hand, it might imply that Haiti and Africa are somehow anal sphincters. They are orifices from which excrement exits a body. In other words, Haitians and Africans are nothing but human waste.

Alternatively, the geographical locations themselves would be places of defecation. They are toilets or outhouses. They exist to receive excrement – presumably from the likes of Mr. Trump and the country he represents. Accordingly, the countries he referenced are thereby reduced to wastelands.

Either comparison (sphincters or toilets) distorts the brutal history of colonialism. In every case that process has impoverished previously prosperous populations of countries and whole continents characterized not by poverty, but by a wealth that far outstrips that of the colonizers.

In fact, the colonial world’s wealth (three growing seasons, lavish biodiversity, rich rain forests, herds of exotic fauna, expansive acreage, abundant mineral deposits, and, in many cases, oil) are the very reasons why European and American colonists invaded them in the first place. They forced their ways in to transfer the colonies’ wealth to the “Mother Country” to feed her voracious bestial, but resource-starved industries.

In other words, rather than receptacles for receiving waste, the colonies’ function became the enrichment of the much poorer imperial centers whose conquistadors invaded and plundered them. In that sense, Europe was the shithole. As sphincter, it exuded sickly white marauders who plundered the lavish wealth of thriving black and brown indigenous peoples.

And in every case, after the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II), when the colonized rebelled to reclaim their own abundance, the colonizers intervened repeatedly to keep the stolen resources flowing to the shitholes up north – to keep in poverty those they had impoverished.

Ironically, Haiti represents a case in point. There attempts at re-appropriating stolen land and other resources have repeatedly been repulsed by foreign invaders.

Haiti’s rebellion began in 1791 shortly after the French Revolution. It was then that Toussaint Louverture led the first successful black slave rebellion – against the country’s French imperialists. Such effrontery to white supremacists has never been forgiven.

The unacceptability of blacks and browns in rebellion explains the U.S. support of the brutal Tonton Macoute under the Duvaliers (“Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc”). Their death squads were responsible for the assassinations, torture, and disappearances of thousands of Haitians from 1957 to 1986. The CIA supported them at every step.

The threat of Haitians struggling for liberation from foreign control also explains U.S. opposition to former priest and liberation theologian, Jean Bertrand Aristide. (And it’s here that the previously-mentioned connection to faith enters in.) In 1993 Aristide was elected with 67% of the vote. Aristide’s popularity and the reason for CIA opposition to his presidency is suggested by the connections the former priest made between his faith and his rejection of the U.S. rape of his homeland under the Duvaliers. In a January 1988 interview, he said “The solution is revolution, first in the spirit of the Gospel; Jesus could not accept people going hungry. It is a conflict between classes, rich and poor. My role is to preach and organize….”

Even before the 2010 earthquake (which killed 300,000 Haitians!!), Haiti’s infrastructure and social fabric were devastated by reactionary outrages against faith-inspired struggles for national control of the country’s own resources. Haitian society still reels from the policies of American clients concerned only with preserving their own wealth and cooperating fully with the foreign agendas of their D.C. puppeteers.

None of this is acknowledged by the Trump Administration, the mainstream media, our TV talking heads, or even by the leadership of the Catholic Church. Instead, everything has disappeared down the shitholes (Again, please excuse the crudeness of Mr. Trump’s metaphor) residing between the ears of those concerned.

The fact is that all colonized countries particularly in Africa have rich histories like Haiti’s.

This means that the poverty and desperation of immigrants from those places is explainable by a combination of colonialism, counter-revolution, and (very often) religious persecution.

The president’s crudeness has afforded valuable opportunity to recover all of that hidden history. It provides occasion for appropriating the memory so important to denizens of the Global South in general.

Their people are not human waste. Their countries are extraordinarily rich, not poor. Instead, both have been systematically plundered and impoverished. Our lavish lifestyles are the direct result.

Put otherwise, all of us can benefit from Mr. Trump’s vulgarity. It can lead us to flush the toilets our brains have become.

Such cleansing can reveal the real reasons that the United States must accept immigrants not only from Haiti and Africa, but from other Global South countries its policies have devastated repeatedly for so long. The immigration question is one of justice and reparation.

Flush away!

The Effing Morons Have Taken Over: It’s Time for Revolution!

Moron

Recent events have shown that our government has no legitimacy at all. None.

As a result, we should all be out in the streets every day. We should be joining a revolution in response to the incendiary words of the Declaration of Independence identifying the right and duty of citizens to dethrone abusive governments:

“. . . when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce (the People to) absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

With this posting, I’m inviting us to think about rebellion in the light of the most egregious of the “abuses and usurpations” we have been made to endure.

And here I’m not just referring to the outrageous Trump administration whose “tax reform” ignores the country’s majority and which is in the process of looting our national treasury on behalf of the already filthy rich. Just watch: they’ll soon be coming for our Social Security and IRAs.

[By the way, do you know what that tax plan represents? It’s not just a refusal to tax the rich to pay for schools, hospitals, roads and bridges – and those ridiculous wars. Rather, it’s a plan to borrow from the rich to pay for those senseless conflicts. In other words, instead of having the 1% pay for their oil wars; we’re paying them! Taxpayers borrow from the banksters to meet those “unfunded mandates,” and then PAY THEM INTEREST rather than COLLECT THEIR TAXES!! The result will be an additional $1 trillion in debt over the next 10 years. What a scam on the part of those liars who up until the Trump election were deficit hawks!]

But that’s not what I’m addressing here.

Neither am I referring to Trump’s completely arbitrary, unlawful, and severe provocation of Muslims across the world by his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Everyone knows that Zionist repression of Palestinians is the root cause of Islamic terrorism. Yet (to avoid Rex Tillerson’s more explicit designation) this effing moron is in effect inviting further 9/11s. (Remember that when the inevitable attack comes and everyone’s asking again, “Why do they hate us?”)

I’m not even referencing climate change and the ignorant decision on the part of “the most dangerous political organization in the history of the world” to unilaterally deprive our grandchildren of nature’s abundance. (Those are the words of Noam Chomsky. Regarding such despotism, he has famously said, “The party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.”)

No one has the right to commit such outrage.

All of those acts (and many others) should be enough to persuade us that any trace of democracy we may have once enjoyed is gone. The man in the White House and these criminals in Washington don’t represent any of us – just their club of plutocrats that includes Democrats as well as Republicans.

But even their latest acts of gross ignorance and unprecedented kleptomania are insignificant compared to their greatest outrage.

And here I get to my main point.

It involves not just the Trump administration, but all of the criminals who have run our national horror show since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II). They’ve all been terrorists and mass murderers. ALL of them: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and now Trump.

According to Daniel Ellsberg’s new book, The Doomsday Machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner, every one of them stood ready to use nuclear weapons to incinerate 98% of the world’s population in one fell swoop. Ninety-eight percent! (Ellsberg, of course, is the most famous whistle-blower in history – the one who released The Pentagon Papers in 1971. Now his new book reveals what he learned during his stint as an insider formulating U.S. nuclear war policy.)

That policy was not just about deterrence or response to a first strike by the Soviets. It involved a policy of FIRST STRIKE now so dear to Mr. Trump’s heart. Eisenhower, for instance, was firm in his insistence that in time of crisis there could be no waiting for a Russian attack. For him (and subsequent occupants of the White House) our country had to strike first. In Eisenhower’s mind and in those of his successors, “first strike” was best and “second strike” was a distant second best. “No strike” when provoked was unthinkable.

Guided by such policy, from the early ‘50s onward, plans targeted every city of over 25,000 inhabitants in Russia and its satellites, and in China too.

The planned destruction is mind boggling.

How many people would be killed? How about 100 Holocausts – 600 million? That was the Pentagon estimate when the world’s population was 3 billion.

And it didn’t even count deaths resulting from Russian and Chinese retaliation!

Neither did it take into account the smoke and debris that would be swept up into the atmosphere blocking out the sun and causing nuclear winter. That climate change would make food production impossible and have any survivors starve to death (except perhaps about 2% of the world’s population near sea coasts that could provide mollusks and other ocean foods).

Pentagon estimates are that about 2/3 of the planet’s population would perish. Actually, (counting deaths from Russian and Chinese responses) the figure would be far closer to 3/3.

No one should have decision-making power like that. In Jefferson’s words, its arrogation by morons amounts to “abuses and usurpations” designed to reduce us all to circumstances equalling “absolute Despotism.”

But it gets worse. According to Ellsberg, no single person had the power to initiate a nuclear war. Many people did (and do) — down to the rank of Major in the field or Pacific Fleet commanders in the navy. If communication were cut off, and if those morons judge they are under nuclear attack, they have the power to respond in kind.

Is that terrifying enough for you? “Abuses and usurpations” anyone?

The fact is we are all effing morons for allowing this non-government to survive without rebellion.

So what should we do in response to such outrages? At this point, I’m not sure about particular steps. But at the very least we should

  • Throw the bums out. In 2018 truly drain the swamp. Get rid of ALL Republicans and their Democrat enablers.
  • Replace them with Bernie Progressives – with a goal of reviving the New Deal that provably raised living standards for all Americans, not just the rich.
  • Institute a special war tax to fund the on-going war on terrorism – to be increased with each new conflict.
  • Before imposing such taxes, hold nation-wide binding referenda on their advisability.
  • Stop dead our country’s nuclear weapons modernization program.
  • Begin serious world-wide negotiations for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
  • Force Israel to honor U.N. Resolution 242, thus removing the major cause of international terrorism.

And if none of that works, make discussion of rebellion and revolution respectable again – in the name of Jefferson’s brave words. It’s our patriotic duty!

 

Trump’s Border Wall: It’s Land Theft, Exploitation & Murder Solidified in Concrete & Steel

Reagan wall

President Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border raises two interesting questions about borders themselves and about border crossings:

  1. Why do the rich consider borders sacred when poor people cross them without permission?
  2. And why do those same rich not consider national boundaries sacred when they cross them even against international law?

First consider borders themselves. They are completely arbitrary.

I mean, in historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.

The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was stealing the resources of the areas in question. So they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.

But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.

Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.

In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. So their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista – a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.

Nevertheless, 170 years later President Trump wants to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by building a wall along this relatively new line of separation. His argument is that borders are sacred, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about his rich confreres’ attitude towards borders.

So let’s consider that second point.

Fact is: The rich disrespect borders in two principal ways, one “legal” and the other completely otherwise.

So-called legal border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts.

Meanwhile, workers (the second key factor in the capitalist equation) who are impoverished by “free trade” enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be sacrosanct, even though the boundaries prevent them from imitating the rich by serving their own economic interests – in their case, by emigrating to wherever the availability of good wages dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard at work here. So they defiantly cross borders without permission.

The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people wherever and whenever they wish, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts!) In the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless.

The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from the wealthy’s destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?

Mr. Trump, tear down that wall!

Donald Trump: International Terrorist, Lunatic & Hypocrite

Trump @ UN

On Tuesday, (September 19th), Donald Trump delivered his first address to the United Nations. As we all know, the 42-minute speech included an unprecedented denunciation of North Korea. The president’s words were clearly aimed at intimidating not only the leadership of that country, but its impoverished population as well.

Besides blatant terrorism, there are two words for such intimidation.  One of them is absolute lunacy. The other is shameless hypocrisy.

But take terrorism first and foremost. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s definition terrorism is a federal crime embracing any act “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” By his own admission, that was the very raison d’etre of Mr. Trump’s threats: to get North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program and to retaliate for its weapons’ testing.

In his terroristic diatribe, the president claimed the right to “completely destroy” North Korea, a tiny country of 25 million on the edge of starvation. Such genocide would accomplish in an instant a holocaust at least four times as great as that perpetrated by Adolf Hitler.

Imagine being a citizen of North Korea and hearing the U.S. president’s bombast. Would you be terrified? Imagine if you were living in South Korea, as 35,000 U.S. military personnel do. Imagine if you were living in nearby Japan, where more than 40,000 U.S troops and their families are stationed. You’d be terrified.

And none of this is to mention Japanese and South Korean populations themselves, who happen to live in a region that is home to half the world’s population as well as to its largest militaries and most prosperous economies. The entire world should be petrified.

However, from the North Korean perspective, the speech represents only the latest in an endless line of such provocations long resisted by Pyongyang. The first, of course, was the Korean War itself which between 1950 and 1953 flattened the country and took nearly two million Korean lives. After that, North Korea has been the subject of endless sanctions and the target of annual war games that rehearse the country’s invasion, the decapitation of its leadership, and that actually drop dummy nuclear bombs.

Nevertheless, the Kim Jong Un regime has gone through the process of non-violent resistance. It has repeatedly presented its case to the U.N., but to no avail. Moreover, the country’s leadership has expressed a willingness to consider freezing its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a freeze on such military maneuvers on its border. The response of the United States has been complete rebuff.

No wonder Mr. Kim has defaulted to developing his nuclear weapons program. He needs no reminder of the fate of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi who terminated their similar projects under U.S. threat.

In other words, though claiming that “all options are on the table,” dialog about Mr. Kim’s non-violent alternatives to nuclear war apparently is not. Rather than talk, Mr. Trump evidently prefers bombing – even nuclear bombing – in an area of the world that hosts 83 U.S. bases, and where authorities estimate that even a conventional artillery barrage from the North would kill 64,000 in the first three hours.

Besides terrorism, there are only those other two words for describing such violence –absolute lunacy and shameless hypocrisy. The lunacy is easy to see, and needs no elaboration. The evidence increasingly shows that we are currently governed by a madman. There is no other description for someone willing to kill 25 million people rather than dialog or compromise.

As for the hypocrisy . . . how can the only country ever to use nuclear weapons, and which is in the process of completely modernizing its nuclear arsenal demand that another country discontinue its nuclear program? Even a child can understand the contradiction of demanding that others do what the demanders themselves refuse to accomplish.

(Sunday Homily) North Korea: Jesus’ Plan for De-escalation

Kim Jong-un

Readings for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: EZ 33: 7-9; PS 95: 1-2, 6-9; ROM 13: 8-10; MT 18: 15-20 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091017.cfm.

“Meet the Press” and other news programs were abuzz last Sunday over the apparent testing of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea. In the aftermath, President Trump not only threatened nuclear war with North Korea (again!). He also harshly criticized South Korea for proposing to engage its neighbor in diplomatic talks. The president tweeted that such proposals would be fruitless, since North Korea “understands only one thing.”

So rather than talk, the president evidently prefers bombing – nuclear bombing – in an area of the world that is home to half the world’s population as well as to its largest militaries and most prosperous economies. He’s threatening nuclear war in a region that hosts 83 U.S. bases, and where authorities estimate that even a conventional artillery barrage from the North would kill 64,000 (including South Koreans and U.S. military personnel) in the first three hours.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un, of North Korea (like Trumps admired “friends,” for example General Sisi of Egypt, the Saudi princes, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines) is, no doubt a repressive dictator who cares little for human rights. However, his development of nuclear weapons and repeated shows of force are not unreasonable. After all, he is exquisitely aware of what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muamar Gaddafi after they stopped similar programs. Like all North Koreans, he recalls his people’s history that saw his country invaded and flattened by the United States during the Korean War which cost 1,316,579 North Korean lives.

Even now, President Kim also feels that his country is encircled and under severe U.S. threat and provocation. Consider how we would feel if North Korea (or Russia or China) had 83 bases in Mexico, if its ships were constantly patrolling in the Gulf of Mexico, or if it were regularly dropping mock nuclear weapons on D.C. What would Washington do under such circumstances? Yet, mutatis mutandis, the United States has been provoking North Korea in exactly these ways for years.

What then would be a proper response to North Korea’s counter-threats?

Today’s liturgy of the word gives specific directions. There, Matthew the Evangelist addresses the problem of conflict resolution. He emphasizes dialog not revenge and violence. In fact, he outlines four alternatives towards resolving disputes even like the one between the United States and North Korea. He has Jesus say that if step one doesn’t work, move on to the subsequent strategies. The four alternatives include (1) healing conversation with one’s adversary, (2) arbitration with a mediator or two, (3) consultation with the entire community, and (4) shunning the offending party.

More specifically, Matthew has Jesus say, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone . . . If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

Obviously, these words did not come from Jesus himself. To begin with, there was no “church” at Jesus’ time. Jesus was thoroughly Jewish and a reformer of Judaism rather than the founder of some new religion or “church.”

It was different for Matthew who was writing for a community of specifically Jewish Christians some fifty years after Jesus’ death. By then, questions of community order within the emerging church had become prominent. So Matthew invents this saying of Jesus to deal with them.

Another reason for reaching this conclusion is the reference to treating a recalcitrant individual “as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” This phrase reflects traditional Jewish avoidance of Gentiles and hatred of Roman collaborators. It runs counter to the practice of Jesus who time and again in the Gospels causes scandal by practicing table fellowship and community with the very people Matthew’s instruction indicates are outsiders to be shunned by believers.

Were Matthew following the Spirit of Jesus, the evangelist’s instructions for addressing conflict resolution might involve the following process: (1) private dialog with one’s adversary, (2) arbitration with a mediator or two, (3) consultation with the entire community, and (4) moving in with the offending party – or at least taking them out for dinner regularly.

In any case, the emphasis in Jesus’ own approach is communion, not shunning or refusal to talk. Nowhere does Jesus’ approach say that one should refuse meeting until the offending party stops offending. Much less does the process outlined include “if he refuses to listen, kill him and his entire people.”

“But,” you object, “The words attributed to Jesus in today’s gospel selection are about church order, not about international politics, much less the irrationality embodied in Kim Jong-un. Jesus’ instruction, you might say, is about private disputes among Christians and are laughably impractical in the political sphere.

And that’s just my point. To repeat: Matthew’s account does not reflect the teaching or practice of Jesus. Jesus’ actual teaching was not confined to the private realm. His practice was highly political.

Eating with tax collectors, street walkers, lepers, Pharisees, Gentiles (including members of the Roman army) represented doing the unthinkable, the unexpected, the forbidden. . .  It meant crossing boundaries, breaking taboos, acting counter-culturally, and offending people on all sides of sizzling debates.

This is what the example of Jesus calls us to do even in the case of North Korea. Its emergence calls for departure from business as usual. It requires admission of guilt and responsibility on the part of the United States. It demands a complete reversal of “American” policy.

Today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Christian community at Rome puts a finer point on the reasons for such response on the part of those pretending to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Paul reminds us of Jesus’ summary of God’s law. He writes:

“Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Emmanuel Levinas helps us understand that Jesus’ teaching on neighbor love is much more radical than commonly accepted. Loving your neighbor as yourself, Levinas says, does not mean “Love your neighbor because s/he is like you.” No, according to Levinas, it means, “Love your neighbor as yourself, because s/he is you.”

In other words, there is no meaningful distinction between you and any other human being you care to name – even if we call them “communists” or “terrorists.” Moreover, if you shared the same history as your “enemy,” you would be doing exactly the same thing that currently enrages you. As a result, no killing can be justified. It is suicide. That’s the thrust of Jesus’ words: to kill the other is to kill yourself. Killing of any kind is suicide.

What does that mean for followers of Jesus’ way in relation to North Korea? At least the following, I think:

  • Recognize and publicize North Korea’s willingness to enter dialog about a “freeze for a freeze.” That’s a reference to Kim Jong-un’s apparent willingness to halt development of his nuclear weapons program in exchange for the U.S. halting its war games off the North Korean coast and for stopping deployment of the THADD (terminal high-altitude area defense) anti-missile system in South Korea.
  • Actually enter into such dialog.
  • Freeze the U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program.
  • Discourage our children from serving in our country’s armed force that threatens the world with nuclear destruction.
  • Imagine what would happen if even a quarter of our country’s 160 million people who claim to be Christian refused the self-destruction the words of Jesus and Paul imply.

For Christ’s sake, Mr. Trump, do the unthinkable. Hard as it might be: repent. Listen to North Korea. Reverse course. How dare you threaten collective suicide!

Face It: President Trump Is Right; There Was “Violence on Many Sides”

Trump Charlottesville

Commentators on both left and right were understandably outraged by President Trump’s tepid remarks about the violence in Charlottesville last weekend. He condemned what he referred to as “violence — on many sides.”

Can you imagine his words if the driver of that car in Virginia had been Muslim?

Yet, the president’s (for once) measured response proves to be unwittingly perceptive and wise.

That’s because in Charlottesville, there was indeed violence on many sides. In fact, if we adopted President Trump’s low-key perspective, our responses to violence in any form might be similarly measured and sage. It would help us recognize that in Charlottesville only the antifa violence enjoyed any degree of justification.

Let me explain.

Violence is never one-dimensional. As Dom Helder Camara, the sainted Catholic archbishop of Recife in Brazil, pointed out years ago, in most cases, there is a predictable “spiral of violence” that is often overlooked. It involves structures, self-defense, police response, and sometimes terrorism on the part of individuals and (most often) the state.

Consider Charlottesville; it clarifies by representing every turn of the spiral.

In the eyes of African-Americans, the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee represents the structural violence of slavery and white supremacy. Such institutionalized violence is invisible to most white people. However, the alt right reaction to the statue’s removal finally rendered monument’s real institutionally violent meaning unmistakable. It represents white nationalism, and not “southern pride” after all. As a result, nationalists’ march was itself an act of institutionalized violence.

That violent assertion of white supremacy led to a second level of violence on the part of African-Americans and their allies. When their peaceful protest was attacked by the white nationalists, the protestors defended themselves – yes, violently. Archbishop Camara identified such self-defense (against institutionalized cruelty) as virtually the only form our culture recognizes (and typically condemns) as violence. And yet, it is perhaps, the only justifiable type. Everyone has the right to self-defense.

The third level of violence entered when the Charlottesville police “stood down” in the face of the mayhem taking place before their eyes. Usually, police (third level) response simply restores the violent status quo ante. Ironically, however, in the case of Charlottesville, it was police inaction that represented Dom Helder’s third level of violence.  Their standing-down facilitated the alt right attacks.

Finally, in Charlottesville last weekend, there was the terroristic violence of the Nazi sympathizer and Trump supporter who murdered Heather Heyer and injured many others when he plowed his car into those demonstrating against the institutionalized violence represented by white supremacists. That’s the fourth turn in the “spiral of violence.” In the case of Charlottesville, such terrorism too was aligned with violence’s structural form.

Unfortunately, the driver’s terroristic expression might soon be institutionalized itself as states like North Carolina are on the verge of granting motorists the legal right to run over protestors who might be blocking traffic. In that case, an individual’s terroristic act would be transformed into state terrorism, which happens to be terrorism’s most common incarnation as seen, for example, in drone killings, torture, and threats of nuclear war.

So, as you can see, the president was right. Violence is indeed many-sided. Applying Trump’s Principle of Understanding might well make him and all of us much more thoughtful and cautious in responding to tragedies like Charlottesville last week. It would always prompt us to examine context and make crucial distinctions. It would help us recognize that of all forms of violence, only the second (self-defensive) level has any hope of justification at all.

Violence is a powerful word. President Trump inadvertently reminds us that we should be careful in its use and in any actions it might inspire.

The Republican Spirit Is Not the Holy Spirit (Pentecost Homily)

trump's audience

Readings for Pentecost Sunday: ACTS 2:1-11; PS 104: 1, 24, 29,-31, 34; I COR 12: 3B-7, 12-13; JN 20: 19-23.

We all saw it last Thursday, didn’t we?

A rich white septuagenarian president stood (ironically) in a garden before a crowd of other rich white old men. He bravely announced a decision whose negative repercussions will be mostly felt after all of them are dead. What courage!

“We’re withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord,” the speaker fearlessly proclaimed. “We’re putting ourselves first! It’s the American way! It’s the capitalist way! America first! America first!”

The old men in the audience wildly applauded the ignorant dolt at the lectern who probably can’t remember the last time he cracked a book. And why not? They’re just uninformed dolts themselves. And yet, they have to gall to contradict the near-unanimous conclusions of the smartest people on the planet.

Can you spell “arrogance?” Can you smell it? Or maybe you can hear it. It sounds like this: ”U.S.A! U.S.A.! We’re putting ourselves first! We’re making America great again!”

None of them seem to care, do they? As I said, they won’t bear the brunt of their egotistical stupidity – of their ecological terrorism. Instead, their children and grandchildren will be stuck with the unpayable tab. And so will ours. Our children and the grandkids we know and love will be the ones whose lives will be immiserated by these fools.

“But Who cares about them?” the rich old white men say by their actions. “To hell with children everywhere. To hell with the planet for that matter. We’ll be long dead when the hurricanes blow, the heatwaves desiccate, and the forest fires rage. We’ll be gone when the waves of refugees swarm the globe in search of water, food, and shelter after the rising seas have destroyed their homes and livelihoods. Good luck with all that, kids! We don’t care about you. We care about what’s really important: MONEY! Can’t get enough of it!”

No wonder Noam Chomsky calls this rogue group of Christian terrorists (the Republican Party) “the most dangerous organization in the history of the world.”

Yes, that’s what Chomsky said. That’s what I just said. Yes, be reminded, on this Pentecost Sunday that these people call themselves Christians, and they’re more dangerous than ISIS. Most of them, I suppose, have been baptized and confirmed. They believe they have received Jesus’ Holy Spirit. Evidently on this day of Pentecost, they hear that Spirit saying:

  • Before all else, be separate; be individuals; God is not everyone’s Parent – just yours.
  • There is no such thing as the common good; the earth belongs only to those who can pay for it – or fight wars to steal it.
  • Your country is an island specially blessed by God.
  • So put yourselves first just as Jesus did.
  • Despise foreigners just like the Master.
  • Ignore the suffering of others; that’s the Christian way.
  • And if they threaten you in any way, kill them just as Jesus killed his enemies.
  • And even if they don’t, (as a Great Woman once said) “Let them eat cake!”

It’s all so familiar. But, of course, such belief has nothing to do with Jesus or his Holy Spirit celebrated in Pentecost’s liturgy of the word. There the whole thing is about human unity, mutual responsibility and care for the most vulnerable.

Look at that first reading. It depicts the Holy Spirit as uniting people from across the globe. No “me first,” no “us first” here. The list of God’s children is long and diverse for a reason: Parthians and Medes and Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, and people from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene and Rome, Jews and converts to Judaism, along with Cretans and Arabs. The list’s length means that everyone is included. Everyone (as the Responsorial Psalm puts it) is a beloved creature of the Great All-Parent. No one is dispensable in God’s eyes.

The reading from First Corinthians makes the same point. There Paul reminds his friends that they are all members of a single Body of Christ. That’s Paul’s favorite image. We are all one body, he said, made one by Jesus Spirit — whether we’re Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, woman or man. There’s no room for “Romans first” here – not even “Jews first.”

But then, today’s gospel reading reminds us that God does in fact play favorites. God has made a “preferential option” putting the welfare of some ahead of others. The preferred ones, Jesus indicates, are the very ones who will be most harmed by climate chaos. They are not the septuagenarians who usually end up running empires. Instead, they are empire’s wounded victims.  That’s the meaning of the risen Christ’s showing his wounds to his apostles. He once again discloses himself as the tortured victim of capital punishment – as  present in the planet’s most vulnerable. By showing his wounds, Jesus reinforced what he’s recorded as saying at the end of Matthew 25, “Whatever you do to the least in my family, you do to me.”

Could anything be more contradictory to what was said and celebrated last Thursday in the imperial Rose Garden? Could anything be further from “To hell with children; to hell with the planet, to hell with the poor who will be the first to suffer from climate change?”

On this Pentecost Sunday, every baptized and confirmed person should be outraged at the hypocrisy.