America as Babylon

THE BACK STORY: Introduction to Martin Gonzalez Sostre

It was during our weekly Wednesday evening program with prisoners in Dannemora, NY  that I first learned about the case of Martin Gonzalez Sostre, held in solitary confinement in resistance to dehumanizing prison practices, and joined the campaign for his release.

A year later at the Gunnison Memorial Chapel of St. Lawrence University I delivered a sermon inspired by a fresh reading of the Book of Revelation and what I had learned about Martin. The sermon – “Worship and Resistance: the Exercise of Freedom” – was  published by The Christian Century in March, 1974.

The first half of the “Worship and Resistance: The Exercise of Freedom” introduces the hearer/ reader to Martin Sostre’s resistance as a political prisoner incarcerated in solitary confinement at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY, known as “New York’s Siberia” or, as the inmates refer to it, “the Hell Hole of the New York Prison system”.

THE CONTINUING STORY: resistance as worship

Excerpts from “Worship and Resistance: The Exercise of Freedom:

“Incarcerated on the Aegean Island of Patmos, a penal settlement of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., was a political prisoner named John. He wrote a political-religious manifesto declaring open resistance to the Roman Empire. The Revelation to John – the Apocalypse, the last book of the Bible – is the earliest extant Christian tract deliberately and openly directed against the pretensions of the world’s greatest power. In the Revelation to John, resistance to Roman power and authority is so inextricably bound together with worship of God that they constitute two sides of the same coin. Worship and resistance are the twin sides of faith’s freedom to celebrate God’s gift of life. The unity of resistance and worship is expressed with notable clarity in the passage where the fall of mighty Babylon occasions a celebration in heaven. The destruction of Babylon is joined to the salvation of the world itself and is the sign of God’s power and righteous rule over the nations. Only those who profit by Babylon’s wealth, power and injustice have reason to mourn her fall, while those who have ‘come out of her’ – who have disentangled themselves from her oppression, corruption and imperial claims – have cause to worship God and sing joyful hymns of praise.”

….

“Babylon is the state or nation in its presumption to be God. Babylon is any state, nation, or constellation of principalities and powers, which attempts to rule as final judge of persons and nations. Babylon is any such power – in any time or place – which makes its people subjects, calling them into idolatry of the nations, and any state or nation that persecutes its prophets of righteousness, peace and justice while rewarding the aggressive supporters and the silent ones who acquiesce. America is Babylon.”

….

“Envision once more a visit to Clinton Correctional Facility. Remember the disorienting sensation of having left everything familiar on the other side of the wall, the feeling of walking out of a real world into a nightmare, the shock induced by the size of the walls and the presence of the guards – strange and terrifying.

“But the closer one gets to the prison reality, the more one comes to realize that it is not so strange, that it is simply a more exaggerated and visible form of our own everyday reality in the face of death. Here on the outside, the walls are not visible, but they are much higher. Out here the guards do not stand poised with machine guns, but they are real and far more powerful – the guards our own fears provide.”
….
“Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins…’” (Rev. 18:4 RSV).

THE FRONT STORY: 2017

I see more clearly now what I took into the pulpit at St. Lawrence in 1974, magnified a thousand times over in the name of a false patriotism that turns love of country into worship of America. “We’re going to make America great again!”

In the Book of Revelation Babylon is the mythic city that dehumanizes its people, the “bad” city (to use a favorite word of our current president) which people of faith and conscience are called to resist. Worship requires it. Without resistance, worship is dead. So is the U.S. Constitution and a democratic republic.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 1, 2017

With the stroke of a pen

Yesterday the stroke of a pen appeared to erase wisdom. But, as Kenneth K. Mayer’s With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power reminds us, appearance and reality are sometimes different. There’s a difference between the stroke of a pen and an eraser.

00-PEN-777x437Mr. Trump signed the executive order that defies climate science, diminishes responsible federal action on climate change, and promotes a hoax: more jobs and a stronger economy.

The news coverage of the President proudly displaying the executive order to the “audience” while surrounded by smiling fossil fuel corporate executives and climate change deniers left me feeling sick.

 

Fortunately, thanks to a political system of checks-and-balances, and organizations like the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)*, there’s more to reality than the stroke of a pen and what meets the eye from a television camera.

Read U.S. Climate Actions Can’t Be Stopped With the Stoke of a Pen and enjoy a better day than yesterday.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 29, 2017.

* NRDC works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

 

An [un]Avoidable Conflict

The day following the U.S. House hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 American election, Reuters reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will skip the NATO meeting in Brussels because the meeting dates conflict with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit at the President’s Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida.

The Secretary of State will pay a visit to Russia immediately following the meeting in Mar-a-Largo.

The scheduling conflict with NATO was avoidable, according to sources in the article:

“A former U.S. official and a former NATO diplomat, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said the alliance offered to change the meeting dates so Tillerson could attend it and the Xi Jinping talks but the State Department had rebuffed the idea.”

Click “Exclusive: Tillerson Plans to Skip NATO meeting, visit Russian in April – Sources” to read the Reuters story.

Warning: If you believe news reports from non-government news sources like Reuters are “faux news” or discredit the value and role of a free press as the watchdog of government in a democratic republic, don’t read the story.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 21, 2017.

 

America @ Middleburg: the Celebration of Ignorance

Allison StangerThis NYT Op Ed piece by Middlebury College Professor Allison Sanger (L) – now in a neck brace resulting from this attempted civil conversation with Charles Murray – is a must read for our time.

The Story Behind the Story – “The Camp of the Saints”

INTRODUCTION: We republish today’s letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center fully sharing our readers’ weariness with politics but also sharing the conviction that silence, or speaking with muted voice, is not an option in the face of evil. Though Views from the Edge rarely uses the word, the alt-right story behind the story of this historic moment has earned the rarely used word.  This is what evil looks like. Take time to open the links for the full impact, but remember – evil has no standing on its own; it is completely dependence on the enduring goodness its wiles distort.

Dear Friends,

Last April, long before Stephen K. Bannon became the chief strategist to President Trump and the architect of one of the president’s most most draconian executive orders, the SPLC’s investigative blog Hatewatch published an analysis of Breitbart News, where Bannon was executive chairman, and its drift to the radical right.

The question that served as our headline “Is Breitbart Becoming the Media Arm of the Alt-Right?” was answered by Bannon himself when he told a Mother Jones reporter in July that Breitbart was, indeed, “the platform for the alt-right.”

Our recent research confirmed just how bad it was. Under Bannon, the comment section became infested with anti-Semitic language while their inflammatory coverage of migrants made it the radical right’s favorite daily news source.

Last week, The Huffington Post published a major article about Bannon’s affection for an obscure and disturbing novel released in 1973 that helped shape his worldview.

The French novel, authored by Jean Raspail, is “The Camp of the Saints,” with a subtitle reading “[a] chilling novel about the end of the white world.”

Bannon repeatedly referenced the novel on his Breitbart radio show, arguing that the migrant crisis in Europe is exactly what the novel foretold.

“It’s not a migration,” he said in January 2016. “It’s really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints.”

As The Huffington Post summarized:

The plot of The Camp of the Saints follows a poor Indian demagogue, named “the turd-eater” because he literally eats s***, and the deformed, apparently psychic child who sits on his shoulders. Together, they lead an “armada” of 800,000 impoverished Indians sailing to France. Dithering European politicians, bureaucrats and religious leaders, including a liberal pope from Latin America, debate whether to let the ships land and accept the Indians or to do the right thing — in the book’s vision — by recognizing the threat the migrants pose and killing them all.

One man responsible for promoting the novel throughout the 1990s was John Tanton, the architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement. In 1994, Tanton’s Social Contract Press published the novel that featured an afterword by Raspail who wrote:

[T]he proliferation of other races dooms our race, my race, to extinction.

That the right-hand man to President Trump is a fan of this novel should deeply disturb Americans if they aren’t already. Linda Chavez, a Republican commentator interviewed by The Huffington Post for the story, said that while she supported some of Trump’s economic policies, his immigration policies were “extremely dangerous.”

As for Bannon and his affection for this racist novel, Chavez said he “wants to make America white again.”

As always, thank you for reading.

The Editors

When the Pond drives up and the Echo stops

scorched-earth

Classical Greek mythology held a deep wisdom familiar to the framers of the U.S. Constitution. They were well-schooled in the Greek and Roman classics.

In the Greek myth of Narcissus, two things keep Narcissus alive: the unruffled water of the pond that reflects back his self-image, and the voice of Echo, the beautiful wood nymph whose voice the gods have silenced, except to echo Narcissus’s speech.

Narcissus dies of thirst. He refuses to drink because to do so would mean disturbing  the pond’s reflection on which his sense of self depends. The pond and Echo are enduring metaphors of a deeper wisdom.

What happens to a president when the pond (the electorate) is disturbed or dries up and the voice from across the pond (the press) no longer echoes his words? Or, to the contrary, what happens to the pond and Echo when they placidly yield to the needs and voice of Narcissus?

Yesterday the President and his Press Secretary acted to shrink the pond and silence Echo by including Breitbart News and other alt-right media and by excluding the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and CNN from the informal “gaggle” White House Press Conference. They took another step toward shrinking and smoothing out Narcissus’s pond, and muting Echo’s own voice.

“No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.” – Thomas Jefferson.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 25, 2017.

 

When the “gaggle” gobbles the press

It was just a “gaggle” – an informal off-camera gathering of the press. But it was another small step in the Trump Administration’s war on the press, as reported here by The New York Times.

Little by little the abnormal (alternative facts) creeps forward to become the new normal.  Only a diligent “Fourth Estate” – the free press whose freedoms are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment – with full access to “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” – stands between democracy and autocracy.

This is serious. Breitbart News, the alt-right news media once headed by White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, was in on the gaggle. It’s enough to make a grown man or woman gag at the “gaggle” and gobble back at the Gobbler.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN

 

 

The Inauguration: An Observer View

Today’s email from a respected friend calls attention to a British opinion piece on the American Inauguration.

Today I wish I could find a single line in this post-inaugural Guardian piece (God, even a phrase) that strikes me as false.

I can’t.

I can’t either.

Click to read The Observer view on bullying, aggressive, nationalist Donald Trump

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2017

Meryl Streep@ Golden Globe Awards

Last night Meryl Streep received the Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award with this unusual acceptance speech. The center of her speech was the ridicule of a disabled member of the press during the 2016 presidential campaign. By recalling that sobering moment, Meryl Streep brought common decency into what, God forbid, threatens to be “the new normal”.

Pledging Allegiance

Yesterday an email from MoveOn invited me to host a gathering as part of a national resistance movement to the soon-to-be U.S. Administration. I began to fill out the form, but something didn’t feel right. I’m not a good groupie, but it was more than that.

The article that appeared in my inbox this morning puts its finger on what feels right and what feels wrong with almost everything I seek to do with respect to the specter of losing most everything for which I’ve worked over a lifetime. Thanks to Michael, the psychologist we met last week on The Nation cruise, for sharing this thoughtful piece. In it’s light, I think I’ll fill out the form and plan a candlelight vigil in the town square. No yelling. No screaming. Just a pledge to, and prayers for, the future.

The sections in green were added to this reposting for those who wish to get to what we take away from the commentary.

I Pledge Allegiance to . . .

I pledge allegiance to . . . what?

The Electoral College, to no one’s serious surprise, voted Donald Trump in as the nation’s 45th president, and the pot of outrage in the American spectator democracy begins to boil.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no — no to all his right-wing and idiotic cabinet and Team Trump appointments, no to his conflicts of interest and serial tweets, no to his sexism, his reckless arrogance, his ego, his finger on the nuclear button.

The word of the day is resistance. For instance, Nancy Altman and Ira Lupu, writing at Huffington Post, point out that Trump, though legally the new American president, lacks political legitimacy, thanks to widespread voter suppression, his huge loss in the popular vote and the anachronistic absurdity of the Electoral College; and even more disturbingly, is a thin-skinned, dishonest, immature jerk, utterly lacking the moral authority a national leader must project. These are flaws that cannot be ignored.

“Other elected officials, the media, and the citizenry at large have no obligation to afford him the slightest political respect,” they write. “Rather, the next four years should be a time of resistance and outright obstructionism. Opponents of Trump should be at least as aggressive in challenging the political legitimacy and moral authority of his presidency as Republicans were in disrespecting President Obama, whose political legitimacy and moral authority were beyond reproach.”

Wow, I get it. Don’t let Trump get away with anything! Fight every alt-right and nutcase appointment he tries to make, every racist or reckless policy he tries to implement. Above all, don’t let him shift the paradigm of normal.

There’s only one problem here, and it’s the same problem the Hillary Clinton campaign faced and had no way to overcome. The “old normal” — the Washington consensus, the status quo — that Trump is so successful at selectively mocking, even as he remains utterly enmeshed in it, is a ravenous predator and looming disaster of global proportions.

I pledge allegiance to the United States of War? To the United States of Prisons? To the United States of Poverty and Infrastructure Decay and Contaminated Water?

Indeed, the concept of American exceptionalism ensconced in the old normal and thoughtlessly touted by the corporate media is Trumpesque in its narcissism. And its time is running out. The economy is breaking down for much of the working class and some of our deep, foundational flaws — the racism, the militarism, the environmental exploitation — are getting increasingly difficult to avoid noticing.

The challenge presented by Trump requires something more than resistance. I believe it requires reaching for, and pledging our allegiance to, a much larger, more compassionate and peace-oriented country than the one we have now. It requires pledging allegiance to the planet and the future.

But what does this look like?

Half a century ago, the emerging nation could be seen in the civil rights movement. Today, perhaps the best place to look is Standing Rock, where an old wound, you might say, is insisting on its right to heal.

“What can we learn from their struggle?” Audrea Lim asks in The Nation. “Bombarded for months with tear gas, sound cannons, rubber bullets and water hoses (often in freezing temperatures, no less), the camp at Standing Rock grew from around ten in April to thousands by fall. They transformed what might have otherwise been a remote, invisible, rural struggle into national headline news.”

The struggle, she notes, had blatantly racist origins: “Originally meant to traverse the Missouri River north of Bismarck, city residents complained that it would threaten their municipal water supply, and the pipeline was re-routed to nearer the Standing Rock reservation in September 2014.”

She adds: “It is significant that Bismarck is 92.4 percent white.”

This could have been just one more isolated wrong, but for some reason the national or perhaps global moment was ripe for it to be something else. The struggle for water rights, for the sanctity of the land, for a wounded people’s dignity, sent a tremor through the whole country. Something sacred — to use a risky, old-fashioned word — had been violated. And maybe we’re no longer simply Consumer America, using up our resources, destroying our rivers, clotting our veins, to consequences born only by the racially and culturally marginalized. We used to be, but this is changing.

“We live today at a moment of transition between worlds.”

So writes Charles Eisenstein in The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. The world that’s giving way — and the story, or mythology, that sustains it — is the world of “survival of the fittest” and winner takes all, the world of domination and conquest, isolation from nature, a dismissal of life itself as less than sacred.

“Today,” writes Eisenstein, “it is increasingly obvious that this was a bubble world built atop massive human suffering and environmental degradation.”

It isn’t merely resistance that will replace the bubble world of exploitation, but a new and deeper consciousness of connection with all of life and a reawakening to what is sacred.

I pledge allegiance to the world that is coming into being.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.