Trump’s election was just one more nail in the coffin of what was — according to humanistic idealists such as Winston Churchill — supposed to be a secular age of reason and enlightenment. Instead of reason shaping our politics in 2017, we find ourselves at the mercy of white European nationalists, white supremacists, American white Christo-fascists and Islamo-fascists who may all hate each other but are united in one relentless activity: their global attack on reason per se.
Barbarians are at the gates of what was once quaintly called civilization once again. These days the war on reason, mercy and compassion is led by Putin, Trump, ISIS, white evangelicals, Russian Orthodox extremists, anti-EU European far right white nationalists and the likes of Trump’s war-monger sophomoric bottom-dwelling mentor– Steve Bannon.
Churchill dreamed of a united Europe…
When Winston Churchill was visiting the bombed out ruins of Coventry Cathedral, in September 1941, he believed that should Great Britain defeat Hitler, a new day of worldwide enlightenment would dawn. He would have been aghast by the rise of white nationalism in Europe in the early twenty-first century, let alone Trump’s Putin-assisted-American-suicide via the buffoonish Trump/Putin/GOP 2016 power grab.
Churchill was fighting for the survival of democracy and reason against fascism and “Germany First” nationalism. What Churchill had in mind if Britain won the war was an ideal of democracy and human rights rooted in the Magna Carta and the Enlightenment. He was one of the first to call for the creation of a ‘United States of Europe’. Following the Second World War, he was convinced that only a united Europe could guarantee peace. Churchill’s aim was to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and war-mongering once and for all.
Had someone told Churchill that in 2017, America would elect a buffoon with plutocratic and authoritarian ambitions and that this fool would be voted into office by fundamentalist white Christians rallying to an “America First” cry, he would have never believed it. Churchill had faith in the growing power of reason and the banishment of superstition. He would have been perplexed by “Brexit” and positively irate with the isolationism of Trump’s America First slogan with it’s fascist-sympathizer 1930s overtones.
Churchill could do worse than to ask Andrew Bacevich for an explanation of the inexplicable…
Today if he came back from the dead Churchill might well ask: ‘How did this happen?” Bacevich is someone I regard as a wise observer of our society and of the art of life. He might have been able to explain to Churchill how his vision of a united Western world serving the cause of democracy was squandered by a trivial TV-based entertainment culture. He might have told Churchill that into this spiritual vacuum evangelical white fundamentalists stepped in and adopted an unlikely new leader (Trump) to usher in what they hoped would be Christian theocracy. … All this as they portrayed themselves as “victims” of liberal inclusive thought, science and a free press.
We’ve not met, but we share a bond: Bacevich and I both experienced the ordeal of sending our beloved sons to war. My son John came home. Bacevich’s son, Andrew, did not.
On May 13, 2007, Andrew John Bacevich was killed in action in Iraq by an improvised explosive device…
Thus his father is more than a historian specializing in international relations and American foreign policy, as well as professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University. Bacevich is a man Ernest Hemingway might have been speaking about when he said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
Bacevich and I have exchanged a few e-mails because (like him) I wrote about my experiences as a wartime father. I asked for his advice when I was working on a book about how issues of class play an unfair role in the way young people are recruited to our all-volunteer military. Since those exchanges, I’ve became keenly attuned to Bacevich’s persistent, vocal critique of our chronic misbegotten US wars—for instance, when he called the Iraq conflict a catastrophic failure long before most commentators did so.
Besides exploring issues of war and peace, Bacevich is a prescient observer of contemporary culture. For instance, before the 2016 election he noted that “in contemporary America, celebrity confers authority” and asked, “How else to explain the host of a ‘reality’ TV show instantly qualifying as a serious contender for high office?” Writing these lines in the context of the fraught election primaries, Bacevich noted that Donald Trump’s genius in crashing the election cycle was an event linked to general social decline. Bacevich asked his readers to
consider the skill with which [Trump] plays the media, especially celebrity journalists who themselves specialize in smirking cynicism. Rather than pretending to take them seriously, he unmasks their preening narcissism, which mirrors his own. He refuses to acknowledge their self-assigned role as gatekeepers empowered to police the boundaries of permissible discourse. As the embodiment of “breaking news,” he continues to stretch those boundaries beyond recognition. (“Don’t Cry for Me, America—What Trumpism Means for Democracy,” Salon, March 2, 2016)
Renaissance and Christian humanism is being erased…
We are entering a period of history where basic ideas about the importance of kindness, beauty, and truth are being challenged by might-makes-right ego-driven nationalistic hubris and untrammeled greed. The quintessential white male bully is back. Put it this way: in 2017 Putin and Trump are our icons not Voltaire, Churchill or (for that matter) Jesus. And Trump’s followers would not understand the sort of men — Konrad Adenauer, Joseph Bech, Johan Willem Beyen, Winston Churchill, Alcide De Gasperi, Walter Hallstein, Sicco Mansholt, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak and Altiero Spinelli — who struggled to father a united free Europe crafted from the ashes of war.
In November 2015, Stephen K. Bannon—hired as Trump’s “alt-right” ideologue-in-residence—was the executive chairman of fact-free conspiracy-addled racist-coddling Breitbart News…
Bannon was also hosting a satellite radio show. As noted by the Washington Post (“‘Why even let ’em in?’ Understanding Bannon’s worldview and the policies that follow,” by Frances Stead Sellers and David A. Fahrenthold, January 3, 2017), one day his guest was “Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), who opposed President Obama’s plan to resettle a few well-vetted Syrian refugee families here. ‘We need to put a stop on refugees until we can vet,’ Zinke said. Bannon cut him off. ‘Why even let ’em in?’ he asked.” In other words why even pretend to be either a Christian or a humanist or for that matter a citizen of an open, welcoming democracy? Refugees in the US aren’t committing acts of terror. They are more law-abiding than white gun owners. And unlike wife-abusing white thugs who are nevertheless permitted to buy assault weapons without background checks, they have been vetted. But those are mere facts.
In the years before Bannon grabbed the world’s attention as Trump’s campaign chairman and then chief White House strategist, he was developing and articulating what the Post called “a fiery populist vision for remaking the United States and its role in the world.” In the same interview, Bannon compared himself to a powerful servant of England’s Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was a monster who, as Henry’s aide, helped mastermind the world-shaking disruptions of his era: the split of the Church of England from the Catholic Church. This split was driven by the king’s lust for women, power, and money, not by theology. But Cromwell was a true-believer and ideologically demented, and an extremist anti-Catholic. He saw he could use the king’s venal, disgusting proclivities to carry out his own holy war.
“I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors,” Bannon told the Hollywood Reporter (November 18, 2016). Just so…
Cromwell was one of the most powerful advocates of the most brutal aspects of the English Reformation. He was also a destroyer of art, ideas and books. He was also a facilitator of the king’s lust and desire to murder women the king had tired of as he slaughtered his way through multiple wives. Cromwell helped engineer an annulment of the king’s marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon so that Henry could “lawfully” marry Anne Boleyn. He orchestrated the liquidation of the monasteries and the destruction of the universities’ libraries in 1535, because the universities had strong links to the Church. This resulted in the destruction of countless books deemed “popish.” Thus, to Cromwell, art, truth, history, and literature had to be abolished in favor of power and ideology, in favor of “alternative facts.” Sound familiar?
Cromwell’s rape of English culture has been described as “easily the greatest single disaster in English literary history” (John Lawson, 15 April 2013, “Medieval Education and the Reformation,” Books.google.co.uk; retrieved 17 November 2015). Oxford University was left without its revered library collection. Cromwell didn’t trust universities and saw them as the enemy. Statues, books, and holy images were hacked to pieces wholesale, culminating with the dismantling of the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. What Cromwell did to England in the 1500s was also a sort of reenactment of the 1204 sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders, only this time the sack was an act of internal religious civil war.
Bannon exemplifies the desire to fight religious war, crudely updated: Bannon is to America what ISIS is to the World: A Holy War Crusader…
“There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” Bannon said at the Vatican in 2014, at a time when the Islamic State was (briefly) gaining territory they’d soon lose. The right was already using the threat of terror as a perpetrator of fear as their chief method for gaining power. “Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is—and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it—will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act,” said Bannon in a rather bad parody of Winston Churchill. Resentment-goaded white evangelicals we ready to take the bait. They are now led by a conman and his sinister yet sophomoric sidekick. They have sacrificed America on the altar of delusional fundamentalist religion.
As for Churchill… perhaps if he was alive today he’d say of Bannon/Trump/Putin/white evangelical voters what he once said of Hitler: “… Napoleon’s armies had a theme … But Hitler, Hitler has no theme, naught but mania, appetite and exploitation.”