Saturday, October 05, 2019

One of the great enigmas of history is that of how a population turns en masse to evil. For example, how did the Germans--an educated, religious, cosmopolitan society--fall into the thrall of Hitler's Nazi party and commit horrific atrocities that will forever be a stain on their nation? Reading accounts of individuals (Jewish and gentile alike) during the rise of the Third Reich during the early 1930's, a common refrain is that of complacency: people thought things would soon return to normal; it wasn't all that bad; a brutal fascist system couldn't happen here. A similar refrain--"it can't happen here"-- echoes in subsequent decades in Poland and various eastern European nations, in China, in Chile, in Argentina, in Bosnia/Herzegovina, in Rwanda, etc., etc. Relatively stable societies rapidly went off the rails into authoritarianism and brutality. There were always a few bellwether voices of warning, but the Cassandras were too often ignored.

I've studied enough history to be horrified at what I'm seeing here in the U.S. The latent tribalism that resides in all human groupings is boiling over. People, especially those who proclaim most stridently to represent morality, seem to have lost their moral compass. As the prophet Isaiah complained, they "call evil good, and good evil; and put darkness for light, and light for darkness; and put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" Power acquired (dubiously) must now be held on to at any cost. If that requires jettisoning one's own ethics, so be it.

It looks to me like we are quickly coming to a "tipping point" moment in the U.S., as the Trump administration's corruption becomes blatant and they respond with scorched earth antipathy against the rule of law. Will our better angels prevail and pull us back from the brink? The used-car-salesman-of-a-mega-church-pastor Robert Jeffress proclaimed on Fox & Friends this week that if Trump is removed from office "it will cause a civil-war-like fracture in this nation, from which this country will never heal." Why? Why this conclusion, unless one is unwilling to look at the facts of Trump's utter unfitness for the office? And why would one be so intent on looking the other way as norms of democracy and decency are trashed by the current occupant of the White House? Is protecting the hold on power of a zombified Republican/conservative tribe really worth it? Is there a better way forward, pointed toward by men like Mitt Romney and Jeff Flake and the late John McCain? Or will their voices be drowned out, and the descent into realizing Jeffress's bleak prophecy be made certain?