Monthly Archives: October 2020

Pic of the Day

El Douche vs. Il Duce

They could almost be twins.

Massive personality defects ruled out listening to other people.  Narcissistic to a degree, he presented himself to his subordinates and to the public as all-knowing—he could reel off an array of statistics (not all accurate) —and all-wise.  A master of the media of his day—newspapers and state-controlled radio—he ruled on the basis of intuition and extemporization.  He acted on the spur of the moment, always sensitive to the need to be seen as other leaders’ equal.  Rarely did anyone ever try to talk him out of a chosen course, and when they did so they failed.  You couldn’t reason with him. He made bad choices, disregarded warnings his country was not up to the demands he was making of it, and turned a blind eye to economic realities.  Many of the failures and setbacks were his fault—though not all of them.  Had he lived to write his memoirs, he would no doubt have railed against incompetent generals and inadequate subordinates.  That would have been a smokescreen. You might almost think I was writing about Donald Trump, but in fact, this is a description of Benito Mussolini.

Following Donald Trump’s release from his three-night stay at Walter Reed Hospital to relieve symptoms of the coronavirus, he flew back to the White House (WH) on Marine One, exited the military helicopter, and ascended the steps leading to the WH second-floor balcony. Once there, he instantly removed his face mask as he turned to the flash cameras and camcorders below. Occasionally visibly gasping for air, he posed in the style of Benito Mussolini with an arrogant gaze and his head held high.

This current El Douche has much more in common with the actual Italian Il Duce than readily meets the eye and ear. While many of the social, political, and economic conditions differ today in the United States from Italy during the first half of the last century, some parallels persist. Trump rises to the level, and possibly surpasses, Mussolini’s arrogant swagger and all-consuming narcissism and sociopathy though I suspect Mussolini would beg to differ. Both figures are legendary for their predatory womanizing and frequent extra-marital affairs. 

Both leaders had trouble telling the truth in their utterances and their consciousness. Not letting the facts get in the way is the basis of both their political strategies. According to Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” In Mussolini’s case, he came to believe his lies; it’s difficult to believe Donald Trump actually believes his, but he just may be so deluded that he does. Both could be placed into the category of “Machiavellian” in their single-mindedness, scheming, conspiracy-driven, unscrupulous, and vicious actions to advance their careers and enact their policies. To them, the ends justify the means no matter who gets hurt. It’s all about power and machismo.

Trump, however, differs significantly from Mussolini in terms of interest and achievement in intellectual pursuits. Mussolini prided himself on his scholarly endeavors and command of multiple languages. He acted on strong ideological beliefs. On the other hand, Trump acts on concerns for winning at all costs regardless of ideological positions. The only book he has admitted to reading was a book of Adolf Hitler’s speeches. While he claims to love the Bible, Trump cannot tell you a single thing within the sacred text.

Even though he is amoral and shows no signs of being a Christian, Trump received enthusiastic support from evangelicals who claimed he was the modern-day King David, a flawed womanizer who God is said to have loved anyway. Evangelicals also support Trump over his stance against abortion rights. As a socialist youth, Mussolini declared himself an atheist and railed against the Catholic Church. After taking power, Mussolini began working to pander to the Catholic Church to gain wider support. He outlawed freemasonry, exempted the clergy from taxation, cracked down on artificial contraception, campaigned for an increased birth rate, raised penalties for abortion, restricted nightlife, regulated women’s clothing, and banned homosexual acts among adult men. Despite having many mistresses, he also put in place harsh punishments for adultery. In 1929 Mussolini signed an agreement with the Vatican under which the Church received authority over marriage and was compensated for property seized decades earlier. Similar to evangelicals today who support Trump, Pope Pius XI referred to Mussolini as the “man whom providence has sent us.” 

When Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States, the man who called himself a “populist” lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Over three million more voters did not support the draconian policies and vile language he uttered during the campaign. But White ultra-nationalist, fascist leaders, evangelicals, and many of their followers supported the Trump candidacy and celebrated his victory. For example, a white nationalist conference held on November 19, 2016, at the Ronald Reagan Building headlined by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, greeted attendees with a tribute to then-President-elect Trump shouting “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” from the stage. Then, before all in attendance, Spencer gestured in a traditional Nazi straight-arm salute.

Another example is when Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville saying they included “some very fine people on both sides,” while expressing sympathy for their demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In August 2020, Trump addressed the baseless, far-right QAnon conspiracy theory saying he didn’t know much about the online community and its followers other than “they like me very much.” In response to a question about the conspiracy community, Trump added, “I heard that these are people who love our country.” When a reporter partially summed up the conspiracy theory to him — that it revolves around a false narrative that Trump is leading a secret, government-led charge against pedophiles, cannibals, and satanic worshippers — Trump responded: “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?” Trump said, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.” He’s willing to do anything to stay in power. And, let’s not forget he refused in the first presidential debate to denounce white supremacists and instead told the violent far-right, neo-fascist and male-only Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

Once identifying himself as a Democrat, but never unequivocally disavowing himself from white nationalists, Trump has transformed himself into the mouthpiece of the extreme far-right wing of the Republican Party. Once a staunch socialist, Benito Mussolini was denounced by the Italian Socialist Party for advocating Italy’s involvement in World War I which countered the Party’s stance on neutrality. Mussolini severely transformed his political stance, and later, he became one of the chief architects of the fascist movement. Before his election, Trump had tapped Steve Bannon, former editor of the far-right Breitbart News, as his campaign director, and before firing him, elevated Bannon into the White House to function as his chief policy advisor, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Bannon once boasted that Breitbart News serves as the mouthpiece for the so-called “alt-right,” a less odious and misleading term for white nationalists.

As President, Trump rolled back many of the rights and protections that minorities have tirelessly fought for over the past decades: affordable and quality health care, reproductive rights, voting rights, citizenship rights, anti-torture guarantees, rights of unreasonable search and seizure, rights of assembly, disability rights, LGBTQ+ rights in the military, free speech and freedom of the press rights, freedom of and from religion while attacking marriage equality. Now, with the Senate confirmation of the conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court seemingly imminent, he has the chance to continue these policies through the courts long after he has been driven from office.

Trump’s continual cries against “Islamic jihadist terrorists” as the number one threat to our nation (even as the FBI says racially-motivated violent extremists in the U.S. are the primary national threat). He issued presidential executive orders banning travel into the U.S. by six majority Muslim nations, called for U.S. Muslims to be placed on a “national registry,” and should be under surveillance to track their movements. These acts de facto “racializes” Muslims. I would not put it past Trump to call for passbooks, like in Apartheid South Africa, for American Muslims and others whom Trump deems a threat to him and his supporters.

Before becoming the Italian fascist dictator, Mussolini believed nationalism superseded class distinctions as opposed to a focus in socialism on class struggle which he had previously accepted. He argued that a vanguard of elites must lead society which would ultimately suppress democracy, and that the state must control “proper linguistic and racial confines.” Though Mussolini’s theories on “race” centered on the culture of a people as opposed to Nazism’s reliance on biology, he did assert a “natural law” thesis that “stronger” people had the right to dominate the “inferior.” Remember, Trump and his father Fred refused some years ago to rent their properties to black people, and too, his racist representations of Mexican people who attempted to come into the United States across the border.

Later, serving as Italy’s youngest Prime Minister in 1922 at the age of 39, Mussolini helped establish the secret police, outlawed labor strikes, and facilitated a one-party dictatorship. Favoring the wealthy classes and forming a virtual oligarchy, he passed legislation making it easier for privatization, deregulation of business and industry, and the dismantling of labor unions. Trump has proposed and forwarded similar policy directives including using the military to keep him in power and sending government agents into cities to attack and detain protesters without due process. Will his apparent parallels with Benito Mussolini hold – and even strengthen – during his presidency, or will he pleasantly surprise us by pivoting to become a healer of the national wounds he cut into the body politic throughout his career up to now? We all know Trump will never be a healer, only a divider. His divisive and derogatory nature is what seems to energize him.

If you are interested in further comparisons between Benito Mussolini and Donald Trump, look no further than their sons-in-law: Galeazzo Ciano and Jared Kushner. Both had similar privileged backgrounds before they married the daughters of Mussolini and Trump. Their fathers-in-law elevated them to positions in the respective administrations, and neither appeared to be qualified for their elevated stature. While there are many similarities, in contrast to Kushner, Ciano attempted to act as a moderating voice in Mussolini’s ear by warning the Italian leader their military was utterly ill-equipped for any serious and possibly prolonged war effort. He attempted to serve as a voice of reason throughout Italy’s doomed involvement. In response to questioning his authority, Mussolini summarily ordered his son-in-law’s execution on the charge of treason on February 6, 1943, before Mussolini was ultimately rounded up and killed by Italian socialist partisans. Kushner, likely, won’t succumb to the same fate, as he continues to act as Trump’s lapdog. He pushed forth Trump’s policies of denying the COVID-19 pandemic’s seriousness and even went so far as to attempt to block aid to “blue states.”

When affairs were going well, Mussolini considered Ciano a trusted advisor. As conditions increasingly deteriorated, and as Ciano advised a different course – specifically for his father-in-law to sign a separate peace with the allies to spare the country needless loss of life and devastation — Mussolini only distrusted Ciano more and accused him of treason. Trump has shown he will do the same thing to his cronies if they displease him as Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, John Bolton, and many others did. The Trump administration has been a revolving door of people as Trump dismissed one after the other for the slightest disagreement.

The lesson of this history?  Choose your leaders with great care, for they can do real and lasting damage.

Pic of the Day

Morality vs. Immorality

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

—Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

We are told to emulate Jesus in all that we do. A week from Tuesday, on November 3, 2020, those of us in the United States have a choice to make between a moral person and an immoral person to lead our country. There is only one choice that any of us can make and honestly believe in our hearts that we are making the right choice. We must vote for Joe Biden. When Joe Biden seeks to inspire or comfort, he turns to his faith. His speeches are woven with references to God, biblical language, or the pope. When Donald Trump seeks to inspire or comfort, he turns to derogatory language. He lashes out against those who oppose him, whether they are a Democrat or a Republican he believes is disloyal to him. Often, he turns to those who have evil in their hearts (racists, homophobes, conspiracy theorists, etc.). Do you want someone who shows love and compassion or someone who shows hate and contempt? The choice couldn’t be more straightforward.

This is not going to be a long post from me today. I want to post a video by Rev. Brandan Robertson, a noted author, activist, theologian, and pastor, working at the intersections of spirituality and social renewal. He currently serves as the Lead Pastor of Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego, CA. Robertson received his B.A. in Pastoral Ministry and Theology from Moody Bible Institute, his Masters of Theological Studies from Iliff School of Theology, and is completing his second Masters in Political Science at Eastern Illinois University. He currently resides in San Diego, CA. The Human Rights Campaign named him one of the top faith-leaders leading the fight for human rights. Robertson has worked with political and social leaders worldwide to end conversion therapy and promote LGBTQ+ rights. Robertson currently serves as the co-chair of San Diego Pride’s DevOUT Interfaith Coalition, has served as the national spokesperson of Evangelicals For Marriage Equality, and developed the Evangelical Outreach Program for Faith In Public Life and the Bridging the Divides Program for Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. Here he is discussing why Joe Biden is the only Christian choice for president.

When you go vote, don’t think that just voting for Joe Biden will be enough. You have to vote blue down the ticket. The Republican Party turned away from morality to support Donald Trump. They made a Faustian deal, and now, they need to pay for it. They have abandoned whatever spiritual values or moral principles they may have ever had to obtain knowledge, wealth, and power. They do not deserve our votes. It is time for a blue wave in this year’s election. Too much is at stake, especially with the impending 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Pic of the Day

Moment of Zen: Firemen and Kittens

Pic of the Day

Stuffed Animals

When I was young, I had a fascination with panda bears. I had several stuffed pandas that I loved. It’s funny looking back that I collected teddy bears that I often slept with at night as a child. I had one named Andy Panda and one named Sandy Panda. I don’t remember the names of the others, but Sandy was always my favorite. Whenever I was feeling down, Sandy was always there to cheer me up. She and my cat Calico never failed to be my faithful companions when I was sick or scared. Calico was an actual real cat and the sweetest animal I have ever known. When it comes to my cats, Victoria and I had a special bond, but she could be mean to other people. She tried to kill my grandmama’s chihuahua one time. Isabella is a one-person cat who is more persistent than any cat I’ve ever had. She does not understand the words “No” or “Move,” and she can be very temperamental at times. She is also a murderess and torturer when she finds a mouse. I won’t even describe some of the horrors I woke to occasionally in my old apartment. 

Pandas, though, were a fascination of mine growing up. I wanted so badly to go to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and see Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, two giant pandas given to the United States as gifts by the government of China following President Richard Nixon’s visit in 1972. Sadly, Ling-Ling died suddenly from heart failure in 1992, and Hsing-Hsing died in 1999 due to painful kidney failure. I didn’t get to visit Washington until three years ago when I went for work, and I got to see very little of the city. I wouldn’t see my first panda in real life until sometime around 2012 when I got the chance to see the Giant Pandas at Zoo Atlanta. Even as a grown man in my thirties, I was so excited to get to see real pandas. It’s the only time I have ever seen live pandas, but it was a memorable experience.

Did any of you have a stuffed animal that loved? What brought you comfort when you were sick or scared as a child? To be honest, I wish I still had Sandy sometimes. I loved that bear.

Pic of the Day

Virtual Conferencing

Yesterday’s conference sessions were really interesting. Yesterday was a pretty good day all around. My lunchtime program for the museum with our guest speaker went very well. This was my first time hosting a virtual event like this with another speaker. I introduced the speaker. I had written a nice introduction if I do say so myself. The speaker gave a fascinating talk on women warriors through history, and when it came time for the Q&A portion, I came back on the screen and acted as a moderator, having some lovely banter with the speaker. All in all, I don’t really think it could have gone any better.

The only hiccup in the day was that for some reason, the desktop computer in my office would not let me load the conference webpage, but that wasn’t too bad because it meant I had to go home early and participate in the conference on my laptop at home. I will be leaving early today to do the same thing. Today’s sessions are not as attractive as yesterday’s, but they may surprise me. Today, there is one on publishing books based on oral histories and then a session on museums and oral histories. The plenary session (a session of a conference which all members of all parties are to attend) will be a live oral history interview, which might be interesting, but we will see. I’ve watched people conduct oral history interviews before, so it might be interesting to see someone else’s techniques.

The thing about all conferences is that in the conference program, they list all of the sessions with a title, a description, and a list of the participants. As a general rule, you can only count on the list of participants being correct. Session titles and descriptions never convey what the session is actually going to be about because when you propose a session, you send in an abstract. Then you have basically until the conference to write your paper. I think most people who have ever written anything will say that the end product is rarely what you initially imagined it would be. At least, that is how it is for me. Even with these blog posts, they have a life of their own once I start writing. My first session yesterday was like that. The description didn’t convey what the session was about, and it ended up being about highly technical issues, which quite frankly went over my head. I should have realized that because I have seen one of the speakers present numerous times, he is always over my head with the technology and programs he is discussing.

The other session, though, was one of the few that lived up to its description. I was about the Human Rights Campaign Oral History Project at Columbia University. Something happened at the beginning of the session that surprised me and probably would not have occurred if it had been in person and not virtual. I logged onto the session a few minutes early so that I wouldn’t miss anything. I did not expect that the lead facilitator for the panel would start up a conversation with me. It caught me off guard, and I had to scramble to turn on my microphone to answer him. We had a friendly little chat as everyone was setting up and getting ready. He also later gave a fascinating talk using some of the oral histories from the HRC project. If this had been an in-person session, I would have come in, sat down, and probably busied myself with my phone waiting for the session to begin. I have struck up conversations with someone sitting next to me at these things, but I have never had one of the presenters strike up a conversation with me. The exciting thing is that I would love to work on this oral history project about the HRC, especially if they were to delve into the campaign to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. With my oral history and military history background, I would be well suited for that aspect of the project. Who knows, maybe I made a good contact yesterday.

As a general rule, whenever I mention who I studied under for my oral history training, people are inevitably impressed. One professor went on to become the head of a major oral history project in North Carolina and was on the board of the state’s oral history project. Another professor is now the head of the Baylor University Oral History Project, which, under his leadership, has become the most respected oral history program in the country. Both, I believe, were also past presidents of the OHA. My third professor is the Executive Director of the OHA Executive Office. In the history field, it’s not always about where you studied or where you work, but about who you studied under, and I studied under three of the best.

One of the things I enjoy about the OHA’s Annual Meeting is that I never feel out of place or out of my depth. Yes, some of the technical issues about website design and such is a bit over my head. I am not a computer science person, though I know my way around a computer for the most part. However, when it comes to oral history, I do know my stuff. I have researched legal aspects of the discipline, best practices, and methodologies. I have taught oral history workshops, and I give an annual lecture to my current university’s historical methods class on oral history and its importance. I don’t often toot my own horn, but I am very knowledgeable about oral history. There are still things to learn because no matter what your field of study is, there is always more to learn. What I am saying is, I feel confident when I discuss oral history. I can’t always say that about other things.