Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity January 23, 2020

Found this interesting quote:

While awaiting execution, Bonhoeffer recorded a number of his thoughts in a work we now know as Letters and Papers from PrisonOne of these essays, entitled On Stupidity, records some of the problems which Bonhoeffer likely saw at work in Hitler’s rise to power:

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. … The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”

As both major US political parties continue to centralize power, Americans today might do well to heed Bonhoeffer’s warning.

What has struck me for three years has been the sheer wilful stupidity of the excuse-makers for Trump.  They can literally spend three years hugging the flag, and shouting “Respect the troops!” at peaceful kneeling protesters asking only that cops not be able to gun down innocent kids and feed homeless people shit sandwiches with no fear for their jobs.  They can accuse people who don’t want to send troops to die in pointless wars of being terrorists who hate the troops.  They can use the military as human shields for Trump with abandon just as they use the unborn.

But let the draft-dodger Trump mock POWs, spit in the faces of Gold Star families multiple times, be on record as calling his years of draft-and-STD-dodging as his “personal Vietnam”, pardon war criminals, .insult the honorable troops who convicted them, and, most recently, take a dump on the military as “dopes and babies” as well as “losers” and the wilfully stupid flag huggers and Respecters of the Troops have not one word to say against him.  They can read–or more properly refuse to read–the following and muscle down their consciences to go on praising this manbaby as he wantonly insults men and women who toilets he is unworthy to lick clean:

Before they could debate the Iran deal, Trump erupted to revive another frequent complaint: the war in Afghanistan, which was now America’s longest war. He demanded an explanation for why the United States hadn’t won in Afghanistan yet, now 16 years after the nation began fighting there in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Trump unleashed his disdain, calling Afghanistan a “loser war.” That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders at the table but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey their commander in chief’s commands, and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war.

“You’re all losers,” Trump said. “You don’t know how to win anymore.”

Trump seemed to be speaking up for the voters who elected him, and several attendees thought they heard Bannon in Trump’s words. Bannon had been trying to persuade Trump to withdraw forces by telling him, “The American people are saying we can’t spend a trillion dollars a year on this. We just can’t. It’s going to bankrupt us.”

“And not just that, the deplorables don’t want their kids in the South China Sea at the 38th parallel or in Syria, in Afghanistan, in perpetuity,” Bannon would add, invoking Hillary Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” reference to Trump supporters.

Trump mused about removing General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in charge of troops in Afghanistan. “I don’t think he knows how to win,” the president said, impugning Nicholson, who was not present at the meeting.

Dunford tried to come to Nicholson’s defense, but the mild-mannered general struggled to convey his points to the irascible president.

“Mr. President, that’s just not . . .,” Dunford started. “We’ve been under different orders.”

Dunford sought to explain that he hadn’t been charged with annihilating the enemy in Afghanistan but was instead following a strategy started by the Obama administration to gradually reduce the military presence in the country in hopes of training locals to maintain a stable government so that eventually the United States could pull out. Trump shot back in more plain language.

“I want to win,” he said. “We don’t win any wars anymore . . . We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we’re not winning anymore.”

Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn’t taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.

“I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called “locker room talk,” this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. The flag officers in the room were shocked. Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room. A few considered walking out. They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. “How does the commander in chief say that?” one thought. “What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?”

This was a president who had been labeled a “draft dodger” for avoiding service in the Vietnam War under questionable circumstances. Trump was a young man born of privilege and in seemingly perfect health: six feet two inches with a muscular build and a flawless medical record. He played several sports, including football. Then, in 1968 at age 22, he obtained a diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that exempted him from military service just as the United States was drafting men his age to fulfill massive troop deployments to Vietnam.

Tillerson in particular was stunned by Trump’s diatribe and began visibly seething. For too many minutes, others in the room noticed, he had been staring straight, dumbfounded, at Mattis, who was speechless, his head bowed down toward the table. Tillerson thought to himself, “Gosh darn it, Jim, say something. Why aren’t you saying something?”

But, as he would later tell close aides, Tillerson realized in that moment that Mattis was genetically a Marine, unable to talk back to his commander in chief, no matter what nonsense came out of his mouth.

The more perplexing silence was from Pence, a leader who should have been able to stand up to Trump. Instead, one attendee thought, “He’s sitting there frozen like a statue. Why doesn’t he stop the president?” Another recalled the vice president was “a wax museum guy.” From the start of the meeting, Pence looked as if he wanted to escape and put an end to the president’s torrent. Surely, he disagreed with Trump’s characterization of military leaders as “dopes and babies,” considering his son, Michael, was a Marine first lieutenant then training for his naval aviator wings. But some surmised Pence feared getting crosswise with Trump. “A total deer in the headlights,” recalled a third attendee.

Others at the table noticed Trump’s stream of venom had taken an emotional toll. So many people in that room had gone to war and risked their lives for their country, and now they were being dressed down by a president who had not. They felt sick to their stomachs. Tillerson told others he thought he saw a woman in the room silently crying. He was furious and decided he couldn’t stand it another minute. His voice broke into Trump’s tirade, this one about trying to make money off U.S. troops.

“No, that’s just wrong,” the secretary of state said. “Mr. President, you’re totally wrong. None of that is true.”

Tillerson’s father and uncle had both been combat veterans, and he was deeply proud of their service.

“The men and women who put on a uniform don’t do it to become soldiers of fortune,” Tillerson said. “That’s not why they put on a uniform and go out and die . . . They do it to protect our freedom.”

There was silence in the Tank. Several military officers in the room were grateful to the secretary of state for defending them when no one else would. The meeting soon ended and Trump walked out, saying goodbye to a group of servicemen lining the corridor as he made his way to his motorcade waiting outside. Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn were deflated. Standing in the hall with a small cluster of people he trusted, Tillerson finally let down his guard.

“He’s a f—ing moron,” the secretary of state said of the president.

The plan by Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn to train the president to appreciate the internationalist view had clearly backfired.

Instead, they speak against the bearers of bad news, which they call “fake news” for reporting what what he did, in fact, say and do.  There is no other term for that than wilful stupidity.

And wilful stupidity is a grave sin, a sin against the Maker of the human mind.  A sin against truth.  And for Christians, it is a grave sin against Jesus Christ, the Logos, who is the Truth.

I remember a decade or so ago when conservative Christians were bragging that the Christian conception of the Logos as self-consistent truth meant that we live by truth while those barbaric Muslims believed they could tell any lie since their false god changes his mind all the time (conveniently in accord with their wishes).

But then conservative Christians, drunk on the folly of “citizen journalists” like James O’Keefe and sundry “prolife” activists who embrace the Noble Lie for the Greater Good then took the next step with the rise of the biggest sociopathic liar in the history of the presidency and embraced the Ignoble Lie for the sake of Raw Power.  They have no problem with a man who has literally told 15,000 lies since he took office.  It bothers their consciences not one bit.  Lying is now “smart” for Cult.  Let us do evil that good may come of it and sin that grace may abound.  Because my Precious Feet pin taketh away the sins of the world.

They have made their grab for the One Ring–they have chosen wilful stupidity in the hope of power for the sake of power.  None of this has anything to do with Jesus the Truth any more.  Truth is the enemy of their god king and therefore their enemy.

And unless they repent they will lose not just their minds (which are already mostly gone) but their souls as well.  And that will be even more sure if they conclude, like Trump, that getting away with everything is proof of the favor of God and continue living by lies.  Because sooner or later, reality smashes through every fragile cocoon of lies.  Trump may well escape all consequences of his lies in this life.  Money and power are tremendous insulators from consequences and he has almost never had to face them because of it.

But the Cult are not insulated.  They will pay the bills for all the lies he has told them.  Because just like the troops he pretends to honor while calling them losers behind closed doors, he regards his base as prey as well and will abandon them to save his own skin in a heartbeat.  This was always true–always.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. (Jn 10:11–14).

“Yet even now,” says the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and tear your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in mercy,
and repents of evil. (Joel 2:12–13)


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