What Now? - John Samuel Tieman

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Over the decades, I have come to two conclusions. The most ordinary of folks are capable of reprehensible violence. That and they must be stopped.

On 16 March 1968, at a village named My Lai, in the worst American war crime of the Vietnam War, U. S. soldiers killed between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians. Two years after that, I was flying in a helicopter. The door gunner leaned over to me, pointed to the village below, and shouted, “That's My Lai.” I expected to see evil. What I saw was just a village. The infamous drainage ditch, in which dozens were murdered, was just a ditch. The soldiers were ordinary Americans.

When I first got to Vietnam, I knew this guy who was an interrogator. One night, he told me about his plan to study in a seminary after his discharge. He was a Protestant. By chance, a few months into my tour of duty, I ran into him. He invited me to “The Bell Telephone Hour”. (Originally, that was the name of a TV series sponsored by the telephone company. But that's not what he meant.) He invited me to watch a prisoner tortured. Wires from a hand-cranked field telephone would be attached to the hands, feet, nipples, or genitals of a prisoner. Then the interrogator would ask a question. If he didn't like the answer, he'd crank the phone. The prisoner then would be given an intense electrical shock. My war buddy thought I'd find entertaining “The Bell Telephone Hour”. I declined his invitation. I never saw him again.

That fellow, the interrogator, was not a monster. He was a nice guy, an ordinary American. Today, he may well be a pastor.

Consider this Trump follower. He is a lawyer, recently retired after a long and dignified career. A family man, he does not consider himself racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic. A former naval officer, he served his country in Vietnam. He supports former Pres. Trump. He was in Washington on January the 5th of 2021. I don't know if he participated in the January the 6th storming of the Capital building. His Facebook posts from that time are deleted. What is certain is that his support of violent insurrection is reprehensible. For political purposes, that's all we need to know.

One of the most disturbing of recent studies comes out of the University Of Chicago. The study found that about 21 million Americans agree that violence is justified in order to restore Trump to the presidency. I doubt if all 21 million would actually act violently. That said, how these folks are divided, between those who would act violently and those who passively would support violence, is irrelevant. I once heard a Trump follower say he isn't a racist. Someone shot back, “But you voted for a racist. To that Black man getting lynched, it doesn't matter if you are the Klansman putting the rope around his neck, or you're just the guy who paid for the rope.”

Trump and his followers are not interested in solving problems. They are interested in maintaining white, male supremacy. Rather than solve problems, they exacerbate them. “Make America Great Again” promotes racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and antisemitism. Trump calls a free press “truly the enemy of the people.” His followers work to make Congress and the judiciary subordinate to Trump. To all these ends, millions of Americans are willing to take up arms in support of fascism. Pause for that. Understand this clearly. Ordinary Americans are willing to kill other Americas.

Recent polls indicate that former Pres. Trump's popularity may be waning. Among many other things, his continued support of Vladimir Putin does not age well. Even if Trump is pushed aside, however, there are plenty of politicians who are exactly like Trump, except that they are younger and smarter. The possibilities include Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Josh Haley of Missouri, and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Folks ask, “How did we come to this?” Good question. But that's not the immediate concern. The relevant question is, “What now?” How do normal Republicans and Democrats stop fascism? How do we preserve democracy? How do we preserve the republic?

2022.03.07 / 10:12
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